Updated: Oct 3, 2022
As with any major outdoor metropolitan development, there are winners, losers and environmental concerns. But it's the mountain bicyclists of Sydney who unwittingly find themselves centre stage in the multi-million dollar Hornsby Parklands Development theatre...
FIELD & WHEELCHAIR SPORTS
The biggest winners are the ball sports and athletics communities who can add another four sports fields to the 46 sportsgrounds they can access in Hornsby LGA. Of great value to mobility-impaired athletes will be the two proposed Astro Turf fields as currently there are none in Hornsby Shire and synthetic surfaces deliver the safest experience for wheelchair field event participants. That astro turf gets hotter than asphalt in summer, or that ‘black crumb’ could infiltrate the Dog Pound Creek Biobank and Berowra National Park next door, has yet to be 'offset' against the benefits. No mountain bicycle trails appear to have been considered for Adaptive Mountain Bicycling in either plan, or the proposed parks link.
There is a new extension of Sefton Road planned which may help mitigate additional traffic along Duffy’s and Quarter Sessions Roads. Both Parklands plans include circular traffic access routes for good flows. But Westleigh residents are understandably very concerned about literally hundreds of additional cars passing their quiet suburban front yards. In Westleigh, the privacy of backyards along Kooringal Avenue may be compromised too because ten year old, low impact mountain bicycle trails have been barred within the ‘Critically Endangered Ecological Community’ (CEEC) bushland identified on the plan. This marginalisation is motivated by nefarious ‘offset credits’ and the intellectually questionable ‘serious and irreversible impacts’ (SAII) conservation narratives- in which bicycling and natural environments are always mutually exclusive. Tedious straight lines of park perimeter fences are neither a satisfactory mountain bicycling or walking experience. Less hypocritical bias and better trail design is actually what’s critical here- as are more people cycling instead of driving for ‘offset credits’ and quiet suburbs.
BUSHLAND SHIRE OR BUSHLOCKED SHIRE?
Historically, Hornsby Shire is the only council in Greater Sydney to have created a fairly significant facility for mountain bicycling, namely the tiny 6km sanctioned XC mtb trail network of OMV which contains one of only three pump & jump tracks for all our Hornsby kids and youths. (No wonder so few of them have responded to various local government 'Have Your Says!') Although having the powers to demolish unsanctioned trails, Hornsby Council has been gracious in allowing thousands of mountain bicycle riders and hundreds of dog and bushwalkers to enjoy the small, unsanctioned Westleigh network known as H20. In 2016, Hornsby Council kept the OMV mtb trails network intact and open during the Northconnex quarry filling project and council even added three new short detour sections of trail.
So it is indeed distressing that the development of these two wastelands is revealing a conflict of interests regarding any future sanctioned bicycling trails or cycling in the bush throughout Hornsby. Sydney mountain bikers have also had to confront an ugly fact; that full time anti-mtb Crusaders and their institutional allies have succeeded, throughout the last two decades, in getting mountain bicycling (the biggest, unstructured social outdoor recreation in the world today) vilified and banished from multiple natural environments throughout Greater Sydney. Restricted, as is the case in 'The Bushland Shire,' to two tiny ‘bushlocked’ bits of wasteland. And if consultants, newsletters, 'the science,' submissions, petitions and social media posts are to be believed, even bicycling on wastelands containing minute pockets of nature is unacceptable. Mountain bicycling trails in OMV and H20, no matter who or what you believe, are critically endangered.
Westleigh Park: (aka H20 network) Over 50% of the unsanctioned, community built and maintained shared singletracks will end up underneath concrete paths for road cycling and pedestrians, four sports fields and vast parking lots for almost 400 cars. Not even a pump track was included in the draft plan! (but it does include a kiddies playground to add to the other 119 in Hornsby) Tragically, all the lost trails are the most socially valued, inter-generational ones which little children, beginners, families and our Seniors- simply love to ride. Although surrounded by hectares of council-managed bushlands and another 3884 hectares of it in Berowra Valley National Park, the plan has vague ‘like for like’ replacements for all these lost trails.
b) Hornsby Parklands (aka OMV): The plan doesn’t specify if the ‘green’ routes indicated on the Bicycling Circulation Map are dirt, concrete or adaptive rider friendly. It looks like much of the network is to be left intact- BUT- terms couched within the extensive plan like ‘fragmentation’ ‘passive recreation’ and ‘slowing’ bicycle speeds may be contingency for sanitizing or ‘taming’ existing mtb trails, possible speed monitoring, or poor flow riding experiences because you are constantly having to stop or give way where mtb trails intersect with concrete paths, roads and walking tracks. There are no bicycle access points from the scenic Manor Road ridgeline as once again, it seems that just the mere presence of a bicycle can ‘significantly impact’ and pollute the entire Blue Gum Diatreme Forest Ecological Community. Anti-cycling groups are demanding all mtb trails below Hornsby TAFE be deleted along with proposed trail links to Westleigh and BVNP.
c) INTER-AREA TRAIL LINKS: In regards to Dog Pound Creek, the council-managed ‘Biobank’ area surrounding the Westleigh development, the ante is truly being upped over the much-needed mountain bicycle trails extension link through bushlands between Westleigh Park and Hornsby Parklands. (The alternate route is a difficult, undulating 8km ride along stressful, busy roads parallel to the railway line). The Link Map is unclear and just seems to use existing firetrails which have extreme gradients and are way too difficult for the average mountain bicyclist to ride. No new ‘up trails’ or ‘descending trails’ from OMV or H20 are evident. It is unclear where this ‘Biobank’ and other designated ‘Critically Endangered Ecological Communities’ actually start and finish, so you could be walking or cycling somewhere here and snap off a shrub in your face or step on some endangered frog and be fined $330,000 and/or be imprisoned for two years for each item you ‘damage.' How cynical- humans have evolved on this planet but the Biodiversity Conservation Act critically endangers all communities who love engaging with the earth’s natural environments.
Because these developments will have a ripple effect on all neighbouring areas. There is no logical reason as to why, considering booming numbers and suburban proximity, there are still no purpose-built mtb trails links to Cherrybrook, Dural, Galston or Pennant Hills through our National Parks, to spread the load on existing trails and areas like the new parklands, or to link and incorporate bushland trails through parks and reserves with the active transport infrastructures of our built environments. So why are imperialist policies of exclusion being practised, as opposed to inclusive policies, which support diverse recreational activities equally ? Is the intention of 'protection' to create labyrinthine forests of regulatory, legal minefields of Titles, Biobanks and Ecological Communities by design ? Are vast, inaccessible Regional National Parks, funded by taxpayers, tacitly endorsed as private property now? Outdated Plans of Management extolling virtuous passive activities, mandate that recreational visitors should be window shopping house cats. Predictably, mountain bicyclists are either barred from entry or lazily cast aside onto difficult, degraded, dead end fire trails.
Closer to home, you should be concerned about the profusion of elegantly crafted art exhibitions of strategically placed anti-cycling signs. Verging on hysteria at the mere presence of mountain bicyclists, you can now marvel at these menacing works of art at every trail head throughout the Dog Pound Creek ‘Biobank’ area, Galston Recreation Reserve and at many other frequented suburban access points at a park or reserve near you.
It is astonishing that no mention is made in plans, assessments and meetings regarding the impacts of existing bushwalking activities taking place within these ‘bushlocked’ natural environments. Why? Because this time-honoured recreational activity is sacrosanct; gatekeeping activists and their institutional allies have the time, money and leisure to bushwalk rather a lot, it seems. But ideologues evidently don’t care much for grooming and maintaining 'their' hundreds of kilometers of exclusively reserved walking trails, as mountain bikers do in places where they actually have legal, purpose-built trails to permanently care for. It’s abundantly clear for all to see that our shambolic walking track networks are outdated, degraded, inadequate and a disgrace to the beautiful city of Sydney. Were they held to the same standards as those so capriciously demanded of proposed new mountain bicycle trails- most existing bushwalking trails would fail the tests so catastrophically they would all have to be closed immediately for remediation. Many of Sydney’s so-called illegal bicycle trails are kept in a better condition of maintenance than Sydney’s legal walking trails.
Addressing human inequalities- like how we choose to move through the bush here- used to be a precondition and core value for environmental protection.
A familiar pattern is being repeated regarding the Hornsby Parklands Development process: petulant withdrawal from community workshops by eternally critical 'Friends of' -type groups who double down in their shrill opposition to any development whatsoever. Selective framing, and 'othering' of a group to deflect attention away from your own environmental impacts- the irony here is that it is the bicycle being villified. The bicycle. The most environmentally friendly conveyance ever known to mankind. Could such cognitive dissonance be a consequence of over- indulgence in years of petty misanthropy, or perhaps tenaciously clinging to other bad and dangerous ideas that simply do not work when confronted by and exposed by dissenting viewpoints?
Divisiveness, online trolling, outdoor discrimination, cancel culture, gleeful embrace of lockdowns and mandates, calls for more and more and more regulation and elitist curtailments on our ability to move loom large in our increasingly troubled future. Not only are all our personal freedoms and all new developments like bicycle trails under threat, but so too, is every metropolitan natural environment harmed by failing, misguided polices.
All the outdoor recreational spaces where you and I go to seek solace on a horse, a bicycle, a kayak, with our dogs or shod with a humble pair of boots can now be arbitrarily be declared off limits to (certain) human beings. If we do not pay attention to what is happening outside, there will continue to be ruthless, bad actors on the inside who will wheedle their way into positions of power- and they really don’t care about us, or the environments we live and recreate in !