Background information| Address to Council 1st September 2004| Campaign Updates
The Woronora fire trail is a sealed one-lane trail linking Woronora Heights to Woronora. It is closed to public access and has two gates that are opened for emergency vehicle usage. The fire trail cuts straight through a significant bush corridor that is the primary habitat link between Heathcote National Park and Loftus, and via Woronora to Bonnet Bay , Como , Sutherland and Jannali. The environmental significance of this corridor is immediately obvious when looking at an aerial photograph.
The previous Sutherland Shire Council, following extensive community consultation and the recommendations of an EIS, had determined to rezone the fire trail to Environmental Protection. The proposed re-zoning was pending consideration by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNR) because of a court action going through the Land and Environment Court . The action was being pursued by the initial developers of Woronora Heights . When people had purchased land at Woronora Heights , Council had imposed a levy, which was to be used to develop a vehicular access road for Woronora Heights residents. Although the Woronora fire trail was never constructed for this purpose, several commentators claimed that the fire trail should be developed into a northern access road. The court case was to consider the issue of whether or not Council could return the levy monies to the developers.
The Land and Environment Court determined that the monies could in fact be returned to the developers. Engadine Traffic Action Group (a community group who want to turn the fire trail into a public access road) then sought a court injunction to stop Council returning monies to the developers. This injunction is currently in place.
Address to Sutherland Shire Council- Monday 1 September 2004
Woronora Valley Association- Troy Coyle
It does sound very community spirited, this concept of improved public transport via the Woronora fire trail. But lets consider what it really means for the communities involved.
Supporters of opening the fire trail seem to consistently raise four issues. So lets address these issues individually.
1. Improved Emergency Vehicle Access
Engadine has its own police station, fire brigade and ambulance so it is unclear how this argument persists. This is most often argued in terms of fire brigade access yet in Volume 1 of the EIS (page 37), NSW Fire Brigade states "the present fire trail and system of keys and locks is adequate". Further it is noted that "allowing access would increase arson". It is also claimed that the Fire Trail is required for emergency evacuation during a bushfire, but as any trained fire fighter learns in their Basic Fire Fighting Course, fire travels fastest up hills and of course loves bush, so during a serious bushfire, it would be very unsafe for regular vehicle usage. In fact the safest place for residents to be would be the playing fields in Woronora Heights . Also, emergency access would be compromised by public vehicles clogging the trail.
2. Reduced Travel Time and Public Transport Usage
According to the EIS, travel times would reduce by 15 to 20 minutes for residents using a bus link through Woronora rather than through to Engadine and then by train to Sutherland. However, the crucial issue that is not discussed is how many people will then be persuaded to use public transport instead of driving a car as a result?
The answer is a negligible increase of 1%.
Appendix D (volume 3 section 8.3.2) states "if opened to bus only, then only a 1% shift to bus service will occur".
3. Reduced vehicle kilometers traveled and associated car emissions
Table 5.3.1 on page 123 states that the do nothing option results in 41,948,000 Vehicle Kilometres Traveled and 829 tonnes of vehicle emissions. Option 4a will result in an increase in VKT to 41,952,000 and the same amount of tonnes of vehicle emissions. That is, the bus only option will not reduce vehicle emissions or VKT.
4. Community support from Woronora Heights and Engadine
Although 98% of Woronora residents are opposed to the fire trail being opened to any traffic, the majority is not so clear in Woronora Heights . In addition, while the concerns of Engadine residents are often raised, why aren't the concerns of Sutherland residents equally raised? Perhaps because page 35 of Volume 1 shows that 94% of Sutherland residents surveyed are opposed to opening the fire trail.
I will now raise some issues that proponents of opening the fire trail don't often mention.
1. Economic Assessment
Pages 157 and 158 show that in economic terms, option 4a is not economically viable or of value to the wider community until 2014.
2. Thin Edge of the Wedge
We know that many Councillors will not be satisfied with keeping the fire trail open to public transport only and will push for full public traffic usage at a later date. If this happens, page 110 states that "noise barriers up to 5.5 metres high adjacent to PEP Road and up to 5 metres in The Crescent may be required".
Can you imagine the impact this would have? Imagine huge concrete barriers, about 1.5 times the height of this ceiling, along most of The Crescent, PEP Road and Bundanoon Road- because this is the true consequence of what you are proposing. We know that if you approve opening the fire trail to bus usage, there is no legal way to restrict or prevent it from then being opened for full public usage. In fact it will be a step closer to this outcome, because it will be claimed that the environmental value of the fire trail has diminished.
What we are really talking about is sacrificing the interests of 98% of the Woronora residents for a net increase of 1% bus patronage from Woronora Heights and Engadine residents. You are also taking the first step towards Woronora, one of the last Shire villages, becoming a major thoroughfare and concrete jungle. Keep the visual picture of the 5.5 m high concrete noise barriers in your mind because these are not a dramatization but a reality described in the EIS. Also remember the economic consequences, the crime, the environment and balance this against the so-called benefit of 1% increased bus patronage.
This brings me from background discussions on the EIS to the situation that is now in front of you. I hope that you will be able to understand the true consequences of the decisions you are making on the fire trail. I would also like to point out some issues arising from the report before you.
You have an EIS prepared almost five years ago that cannot be relied upon to meet the current statutory guidelines. The report proposes $750,000 worth of engineering works in a very environmentally sensitive area. In addition to those works, regular bus movements would commence over a currently untrafficked road. These are works which will affect (or at the very least would be likely to affect) the environmental and aesthetic qualities of the surrounding bushland (as well as the Woronora Valley residential area.) It would therefore be unlawful for the Council to approve the Director of Engineering's proposal without assessment under the EP&A Act. Development consent would need to be obtained for The Crescent works, since they will include "relocation and realignment" activities that require development consent. A new EIS should be prepared prior to the fire trail being opened to public transport and major development of The Crescent.
Councillors, I realise that Councillor Redmond acts as a strong proponent for opening of the fire trail and is a passionate speaker on this issue. I also note his commitment to the existing EIS. Councillors could you please turn to Table 8.5 on page 214. Scan down to "social issues" and "property values". I will now explain why this table is so important.
In 1997 the Pecuniary Interest Tribunal made a Statement of Decision regarding a formal complaint made against Councillor Redmond in regards ...(cut out where Councillor Johns interjected) ...continued- If you believe that the EIS is reliable then you must believe that property values will increase in Woronora Heights . The residents of Woronora have been disadvantaged because one of our ward councillors, Councillor Gibbons, has had the personal integrity to declare what she believes to be a pecuniary interest and Councillor Redmond still votes on the issue.
Councillors, remember the 5.5 metre high concrete barriers, remember the 98% and 94% opposition from Woronora and Sutherland respectively, the economic assessment,the nil reduction in VKT and emissions, the $750,000 cost, and then think is a 1% increase in bus patronage worth it.
November 2004: Woronora Heights Residents' Association has joined forces with the Woronora Valley Association to oppose the fire trail being opened for buses. However, the State Government gazetted the fire trail as a public road on October 15. The matter is coming before the Land and Environment Court on 2nd February 2005.
Tuesday, 7th September 2004: Last night ( 6 September 2004 ), Sutherland Shire Council voted to open the Woronora Fire Trail to public transport access. The vote was split and the Mayor made the casting vote. Councillor Redmond made some very passionate speeches and was very antagonistic towards the public gallery. In his speeches he called the Crescent Creek a polluted drain and clearly stated, as he faced the public gallery, that he expected the fire trail to be opened to much heavier traffic in the future.
This is a very disappointing outcome for the Shire, which has very few remaining villages. We have a clear statement from Councillor Redmond that this is only a first step so we can only assume that he intends to make the fire trail a major thoroughfare between Engadine and Sutherland/Woronora. There was no mention of the impacts on Council's Green Web initiative (in fact having spoken to the Green Web Officer last week, he was not even aware that the rezoning to Environmental Protection 7(b) had not been passed), which identifies the area as a significant wildlife corridor in the Shire or the fact that the EIS states that there will only be a 1% increase in bus patronage as a result of opening the fire trail.
August 2004: On 5 th June 2004 , the newly elected Sutherland Shire Council held a private meeting where it was decided that Council would review the fire trail usage. Council voted to re-examine whether the fire trail should be opened to full public access or bus-only usage. This vote was made in private and the public gallery were not able to know what issues had been discussed in regards to this decision.
The Shire Watch Independents have since put in a rescission motion (i.e. a motion to rescind Council's decision to re-examine the fire trail's usage). This will be voted by Council on 16 th August. This means that Council will first need to vote on whether or not it agrees to revoke its previous motion before actually re-voting. In the meantime, the Woronora Valley residents have undertaken a survey on what the valley wants. Of 740 responses, 740 people (i.e. 98.9%) are opposed to the fire trail being opened to any traffic except emergency vehicles. Only 3 people (i.e. 0.4%) want the fire trail opened to public usage and seven people want the fire trail opened for bus-only usage (i.e. 1%).
Opening the fire trail would have significant adverse environmental and community impacts. Traffic would have to be directed through The Crescent and Prince Edward Park Road , which are very narrow roads. This would involve extension construction works and loss of bush where local bush care groups have been working for several years. It would probably mean that The Crescent Creek would need to be filled in. The Crescent Creek has been rehabilitated by a local bushcare group and is now home to native ducks, ringtail possums, frogs, water dragons and numerous other fauna. The Woronora bushland is a refuge for flora such as possums, wallabies, and echidnas and opening the fire trail would cut straight through a major animal corridor.
The Woronora community takes pride in its peacefulness and the whole atmosphere of the valley would change if it were to become a throughfare. It is one of the last remaining suburbs in the Shire that retains its village atmosphere.