Objections

The Bidjigal Reserve Action Group believes the Go Ape development would cause totally unacceptable degradation of the environment and general amenity of Bidjigal Reserve (formerly known as Excelsior Reserve).

As detailed in our objections below, the reports accompanying the development application are deeply flawed. The Hills Shire Council should therefore refuse the application (DA 36/2010/HA) on planning grounds.

The backgrounder handed out at the conciliation conference contains a summary of the submissions received by Council in relation to the proposed Go Ape adventure course (176 objecting to the proposal, 12 in favour).

Environment

["Significant concerns" expressed by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW can be seen here.]

  • The Go Ape proposal involves the removal of trees, vegetation and habitat.

A minimum of 77 trees would be be removed, and a minimum of 1,730m² of habitat would be removed or modified. The development would include clearing for raised  zip line landing zones 3m by 6m in area, clearing around ladder trees with stockade fencing up  to 8m in diameter, and clearing for 1.4m wide pathways with “natural trip hazards” removed.

  • The Flora and Fauna Impact Assessment Report is clearly flawed as it fails to identify endangered and vulnerable species in and around the proposed Go Ape development.
Epacris purpurascens var purpurascens

Epacris purpurascens var purpurascens

  • The Report fails to identify the occurrence of the vulnerable Epacris purpurascens var purpuracens very close to trees to be used as part of the proposed course. In fact, the Report states specifically “No Epacris purpurascens var purpuracens were recorded on the site despite targeted surveys”. Yet multiple specimens are clearly visible on even a cursory inspection of the site of the proposed course (pictured).
  • A pair of Powerful Owls is known to live and forage in the valley. A seven-part test should have been applied to this vulnerable species. If it had been, it is likely that a number of concerns would have been raised. For example, the owls forage along the valley at treetop height and could be vulnerable to bird-strike injury from the zip line wires. Even one such incident could “have an adverse effect on the life cycle of the species such that a viable local population of the species is likely to be placed at risk of extinction” (per Part A of the seven-part test).
  • The seven-part tests applied to the two threatened species of bats identified that the proposed development has the potential to impact the species through loss of roosting habitat (tree hollows). The Report suggests that this loss, identified as a key threatening process, can be compensated for by installing artificial nest boxes. Given the massive and sustained level of daytime disturbance, by virtue of 30,000 noisy people passing through the forest canopy each year, it is unlikely that any nesting or roosting will occur in the area.
  • The methodologies used in preparing the Flora and Fauna Report are flawed.
  • The literature searches are scanty and a number of obvious information sources were not consulted, most notably the species lists published in the booklet The Bushland of Bidjigal Reserve and Adjoining Reserves (Baulkham Hills Shire Council, 2004).
  • The methods used in the field surveys are inadequately described, with no information provided about the boundaries of the area surveyed, the sampling effort, or sampling times. In particular, it is unclear if any survey work was undertaken on the eastern escarpment where the eastern terminus of the east-west zip line would be located.
  • The survey description notes “the limitations of short term fauna surveys” and also describes the methods used as “opportunistic”.
  • The Flora and Fauna Impact Assessment Report systematically downplays the adverse effects that large numbers of visitors will have on the ecological integrity of the entire area.

The visitor projections are for 30,000 additional visitors per annum. Over time, this sustained pressure, referred to as “push disturbance”, will permanently alter the balance of the local ecology in favour of species which are tolerant of high levels of human disturbance.

Direct impacts and the indirect impact of “increased human activity within or directly adjacent to sensitive habitat areas” (DECC Threatened species assessment guidelines pp 3-4)  are mentioned in Section 5.4 ( page 24) of the Flora and Fauna Assessment Impact Report. However, the summary in Section 9 seems to simply accept the adverse impacts on the more general flora and fauna populations. No mention is made of the direct impacts of trampling and erosion.

  • The Tree Report is flawed.
  • The Report fails to recognise the importance of young, old, dead and dying trees in a natural bushland environment. The tree assessment appears to be fundamentally based on an assumption that these are park trees, not natural bushland trees. Small and dead trees are consistently dismissed, both in the Report and by the developer himself.
  • The Tree Report states that “branch pruning of trees will be required at various locations”, but gives no indication of which trees will be pruned and to what extent.
  • The Tree Report consistently states that  “No significant short term (5 years) impact [is] expected based upon Go Ape Specifications and Specific Tree Protection Measures”. Yet the summary states that “It is considered that the proposed aerial adventure course will not have a significant impact on the long-term health of the trees.” Nowhere is any evidence of any nature given on the long-term effects.
  • The claim in the Statement of Environmental Effects that the development is reversible is fallacious.
  • The removal of trees and habitat is clearly not reversible. Once a tree is gone, it is gone for good.
  • Wires for zip landing lines are to be mounted directly into rock. Not only does this method of mounting not appear in the DA, but it is also clearly not reversible.
  • The Statement of Environmental Effects notes that, for one course in the UK, “70% of the course [has been] changed/ re-routed”. The DA contains no details of how often the course will need to be changed, nor of what procedures will be put in place to manage change.
  • The ratio of 2:1 for compensatory regeneration work is far too low.

The suggestion that regeneration of 2m2 of weed-infested bushland margin is sufficient to compensate for the destruction of 1m2 of mature and stable natural habitat is not supported by the majority of the extensive ecological literature on the subject.  This literature generally agrees that

  • wherever possible such destruction should be avoided if possible; and
  • if it is not possible to avoid it, then a considerably larger multiplier than 2 should be applied.

The proponent is only proposing to apply this multiplier to the very conservative estimate of the area directly disturbed – approximately 1,700 square metres – not to the whole area that will be indirectly affected, which we estimate at approximately ten hectares (i.e. 100,000 square metres).

  • The DECC/Sydney Metropolitan Catchment Management Authority Rapid Fauna Habitat Assessment classifies the Darling Mills Creek area as a “high ranked habitat area”. Many of the identified threats to fauna values would be exacerbated by this development, including:
  • Habitat continuity within the site
  • No direct habitat link with other conservation reserves within the local region
  • High edge effect
  • Water quality, particularly stormwater run off
  • Weed infestation
  • Tree dieback
  • Loss of hollow-bearing trees
  • Impacts associated with high public visitation in parts of the site, such as erosion.
  • Clearing will open up further areas to the introduction of weeds and rubbish.

Although the area close to Ted Horwood reserve is in poor condition, this proposal would open up areas to the north and right across the valley to the east, increasing the spread of weeds further into the bush. The large increase in the number of visitors and spectators will also lead to rubbish being brought into currently undisturbed bushland.

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Noise

The Noise Assessment Report is manifestly flawed and conclusions based upon it are therefore entirely without merit.

The Report states that it has adopted the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) Industrial Noise Policy (INP). However, it fails to adhere to this policy in many key areas:

  • The noise logger used to characterise the existing noise environment was located in an entirely inappropriate location, being placed right in the middle of three actively used sporting fields, next to a car park, closer to Renown Road than any affected resident, in a wooded area, and nowhere near any noise sensitive locations.
  • Figure 1 in the Report fails to specify the location of the Adventure Course correctly, and totally ignores the northern and eastern extents of the course. It therefore ignores large areas of the noisiest sections of the proposed course.
  • Residences in the “most affected location(s)” have been ignored entirely. As the easternmost extent of the course has not been considered at all, the houses on the eastern side of valley – some of which are only 100 m from the landing zone of the longest zip wire – have also been ignored. These houses are far closer to the course itself than the purported “nearest affected neighbouring residences” to the north-west of the course.
  • The most noise-sensitive location is Bidjigal Reserve itself, which has been ignored completely. “Parks and wilderness areas” are included in the definition of noise-sensitive locations accompanying Table 3.1 in the INP, but there was no monitoring of the background noise levels inside the Reserve.
  • According to Section 5.1.1 and Table 4 of the Report, the sound pressure levels used for noise predictions are based on 15 people. That is only the number of people arriving every 30 minutes. Participants are on the course for approximately 3 hours, which means there are around 90 people on the course at any one time. Sound predictions based on 15 people are completely arbitrary and are irrelevant; they grossly underestimate the noise levels which would be generated by 90 people (plus spectators) being on the course.
  • Bidjigal Reserve itself should be classified as a ‘Rural’ receiver, not “Suburban”. The definition of a rural receiver in Section 2.2.1 of the INP is “an area with an acoustical environment that is dominated by natural sounds, having little or no road traffic. Such areas may include … a wilderness area or national park … an area generally characterised by low background noise levels.”
  • There is no indication whether there were adverse weather conditions during the monitoring period, nor whether such periods (if they occurred) were  monitored and excluded from the data, as required by the INP. In fact, records on the Bureau of Meteorology web site indicate that rain fell nearby on five days of the monitoring period; data recorded during those rain periods should have been excluded.
  • The Noise Assessment Report fails to even consider the drawn out “whiz” vibration noise arising from the operation of the zip lines. It also characterises the operational noises as “shouting and loud conversations”, failing to note that this will also include the loud screaming which commonly accompanies “thrill-seeker” rides.
  • The report considers impacts related to noise levels, but gives no consideration to other factors such as the character of the noise.  The NSW State of the Environment Report 2006 (Section 2.7 Amenity) notes that:

The level of annoyance or discomfort depends on the type, timing, duration and frequency of noise or if the disturbance is out of the ordinary, that is, where it differs from the ‘background’ noise.

The noises which the proposed development will generate are significantly different in character from the background noise (identified in the Acoustic report as “…dominated by distant road noise along the M2 Motorway and Renown Road and natural sounds e.g. birds chirping and leaves rustling).  Applying the modification factors recommended in Section 4 of the INP could add as much as 20-25 dB to the predicted sound levels from the proposed development at the receptor, and would thus significantly exceed the proposed intrusiveness criteria.

  • Section 5.1.3. of the Noise Assessment Report indicates that noise prediction modelling has been done, but no detail about the inputs or outputs from this process are provided.
  • The “Recommendations” section appears to imply that limiting the hours of operation to 0700-2200 (!) and the numbers of participants to 15 people per 30 minute interval will somehow limit noise to acceptable levels, although no basis for arriving at this conclusion is provided.
  • There is no indication that the continuous sampling to assess the ambient noise was “accompanied by periods of operator-attended monitoring”, as specified in Table 3.1 of the INP.
  • No calibration date is given for the equipment used.
  • There is no statement justifying the choice of a monitoring site in the middle of three actively used playing fields, near an actively used car park, close to Renown Road, and hundreds of metres away from any noise-sensitive location, let alone the most affected locations.
  • There is no description of land uses in surrounding areas; no description of the hordes walking past the monitoring equipment on their way to play football.
  • There is no brief description of where the equipment was positioned. There is a dot on a Google Earth image, which seems to indicate the equipment was amongst trees. However, Section 3.4 of the INP states that “Wind blowing through leaves can raise the environmental noise levels, even at speeds less than 5 m/s. To avoid this effect, take car to select monitoring locations that are as far away as possible from vegetation while still being representative of the subject site.”
  • There is a description of the dominant and background noise sources: “It was observed from the noise survey that the noise environment is dominated by distant traffic noise along the M2 Motorway and Renown Road and natural sounds”. There is no mention of the noise associated with Saturday football matches right next to the noise logger; nor is there mention of the fact that much of the subject site, particularly at the northern end, is much further away from the M2 and Renown Road than the site chosen for the noise logger.
  • There is no record of periods of affected data (due to adverse weather and extraneous noise), nor any statement indicating the need for any re-monitoring.
  • Day, evening and night assessment background levels and the final RBL level were given; however, since the monitoring location was nowhere near the “most or potentially most affected noise-sensitive location/s”, the results are totally meaningless in relation to the proposed development.

The Noise Assessment Report systematically overestimates the existing background noise level, systematically underestimates the predicted noise from the proposed development, and fails to properly identify the residents and users of the Reserve who will be most affected.

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Natural Amenity

Existing users of Bidjigal Reserve will lose their current quiet enjoyment of the Reserve as a tranquil area for passive recreation.

In the UK, Go Ape courses are located in what were large commercial conifer plantations. These sites are in rural locations and, as the native woodland was mostly clear felled, have little or no environmental significance. The “Getting There” instructions on their UK web site consistently carry this warning:

Important! – using satellite navigation. Due to the rural nature of our locations, postcodes are not always accurate when using satellite navigation. Please always check the route it has given you before setting off, and cross reference with a map.

Transposing this concept to natural bushland near the geographic and population heart of Sydney is totally inappropriate. Bidjigal Reserve provides a quiet and peaceful haven in the midst of a large city. This amenity would be lost if thousands of users do as Go Ape suggest and “make like Tarzan and swing through the trees shouting, ‘arrrh-a-arrrh-a-arrrhhhh!’” (www.goape.co.uk)

Many examples of the noise of this “silent” operation can be found on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6g4C0rFaVt0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYYNSsNqUkM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kBNQi-GbIs

The landing zone for the zip line across the valley is only 100m from houses on the eastern side. Noise travels great distances along and across the valley, which acts like an amphitheatre. With a capacity for 15 people every half hour, and a two-way trip across the valley, those trying to enjoy the serenity of the Murri-yanna track along Darling Mills Creek will have to endure the almost continuous noise of  someone zipping overhead once every minute.

The Acoustic Report takes no account of that zip line and its noise impact on residents and users of the Murri-yanna track. Nor does it take account of the noise impacts on walking tracks along the northern and eastern extremities of the course. With around 90 participants on the course at any one time, the entire nature of Bidjigal Reserve would be changed.

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Parking and Traffic

  • There is insufficient parking.

The applicant’s own estimate, based on 3.9 people per vehicle, is for 30 spaces. Their figures show there were only 26 spaces free at 9am on the Saturday, 20 June 2009.

  • Baulkham Hills Football Club confirms that almost no soccer games were played on that day because of the condition of the grounds. When a full round of soccer is played, there is no parking available for most of the day.
  • Their own Traffic Report shows there was, in any case, insufficient parking – even on a day when almost no games were played.
  • In the UK, Go Ape have submitted an application for a new course in Itchen Valley Country Park. In this application, they state the average vehicle occupancy is 3.5 people, not 3.9 as used by Go Ape in Australia. They also state the average time spent on site by a Go Ape customer is 3.5 hours, not 3 hours. Based on 14 people per half hour and 7 staff spaces, they arrive at a parking requirement of 43 spaces. This is a 43% increase over the parking estimate for the Ted Horwood and Bidjigal Reserve application, which is based on almost identical figures (15 people per half hour and 7 staff spaces).
  • The whole of Park Road adjacent to Ted Horwood Reserve is signposted either No Stopping or No Parking; consequently, traffic is forced into neighbouring side streets. On mulching days, the situation is even worse. These streets were not designed to cope with excess parking from Ted Horwood Reserve.
  • The report provides no evidence that the UK vehicle occupancy rate, whether it be 3.5 or 3.9 people per vehicle, can be applied to Australia. Using this figure to calculate parking requirements is statistically invalid. The worst-case scenario should be used, not the average or best-case.
  • The increase in traffic will exacerbate already dangerous access to Ted Horwood Reserve.
  • Renown Road is already a Federally recognised Traffic Black Spot.  Right turns into and out of the southern car park are already extremely dangerous due to very limited visibility. The Traffic Report takes no account of this.
  • Existing traffic problems in Park Road made it necessary to install a median strip  adjacent to the entrance to Ted Horwood Reserve so as to prevent vehicles from making a right-hand turn into the car park. The Traffic Report takes no account of this.
  • The report provides no evidence that the UK occupancy rate of 3.9 people per vehicle can be applied to Australia. Using this figure to calculate traffic levels is statistically invalid. The worst-case scenario should be used, not the best-case.

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Absence of a Plan of Management for Bidjigal Reserve

The Board of the Bidjigal Reserve Trust have issued a Brief to Consultants for the preparation of a Plan of Management for Bidjigal Reserve. Tenders closed on 4 September 2009. The objectives in Section 3 of the Brief call for the plan to “identify opportunities for, and constraints on, future development of the Reserve”.

No development should go ahead until the proper processes of consultation have been completed and a Plan of Management has been adopted.

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Bushfire Risks

The Bushfire Hazard Assessment Report is flawed, as it concentrates almost exclusively on the risk to the proposed reception facilities; it fails to consider the risk to participants and fails to consider the fire risk caused by the development to the bush and neighbouring areas.

  • The proposed Go Ape development would increase the already very high risk of bushfires.

Although participants will be subject to rules such as no smoking, they will be largely unsupervised.

You will receive a 30 minute safety briefing and training from an instructor before you start the course. After that you’re on your own, free to swing through the trees. Of course, instructors are always on hand, regularly patrolling the forests (not in monkey suits unfortunately!) (www.goape.co.uk/faqs)

However, there are sections of the proposed course where there will be no instructors at all – for example, on the eastern side of the valley. In those circumstances, it is extremely likely that users and/or spectators will ignore rules.

  • In the event of a bushfire, evacuation of Go Ape participants low down on the course has not been addressed.

Page 8 of the Bushfire Hazard Assessment Report states:

Any fire in this area is likely to be travelling north or south parallel to Mills Creek and flanking up towards the proposed development.

The proposed development is not just the reception facilities on the western side close to Ted Horwood Reserve. The Report totally ignores the users down in the valley and the proven danger of fires travelling very quickly across the valley, driven by a hot westerly.

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The proposal does not protect, preserve, nor enhance urban bushland and therefore contravenes LEP2005

  • Bidjigal Reserve is zoned 6(a) – Open Space. The objectives for this zone, as specified in LEP2005 include:

To protect, preserve and enhance areas of urban bushland and fauna habitat corridors that are considered valuable in terms of their natural heritage significance and recreational, educational, aesthetic and scientific value.

  • Amusement Parks are prohibited in areas zoned 6(a). An amusement park is defined as “a place where amusements or mechanical or electronic entertainments are permanently situated”. The proposed zip lines are clearly permanent mechanical entertainments, and the development should therefore be declined.

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The proposal is not essential for a purpose in the public interest, and therefore contravenes SEPP 19

6 (4)  A consent authority shall not consent to the carrying out of development referred to in subclause (1) unless:

(a)  it has made an assessment of the need to protect and preserve the bushland having regard to the aims of this Policy,
(b) it is satisfied that the disturbance of the bushland is essential for a purpose in the public interest and no reasonable alternative is available to the disturbance of that bushland, and
(c)  it is satisfied that the amount of bushland proposed to be disturbed is as little as possible and, where bushland is disturbed to allow construction work to be carried out, the bushland will be reinstated upon completion of that work as far as is possible.

Nothing in the Development Application shows that “the disturbance of the bushland is essential for a purpose in the public interest“.

In addition, the proposal contravenes many of the Aims and Objectives of SEPP 19.

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The proposal relies on a commercial enterprise using existing community amenities such as parking and toilets

It would (and should) normally be a requirement of any commercial development that it provide adequate facilities such as parking, toilets and roadways. However, the Go Ape development is entirely dependent upon using the existing, over-stretched amenities provided by Council.

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If the Go Ape proposal were to go ahead, it would create a precedent for other year-round, noisy and intrusive commercial developments in sensitive urban bushland

The existing commercial activity within Bidjigal Reserve is bushwalking. This is a non-intrusive activity which is an excellent fit for the location. The proposed Go Ape development, in contrast, would be very intrusive and a very poor fit.

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The DA contains no indication of spectator numbers. Spectators will magnify the environmental, fire, noise, parking and traffic risks

Go Ape would have no control over those spectators who are on public land and not subject to rules such as staying on the paths and not smoking.

From www.goape.co.uk/faqs:

Can we watch our friends and family Go Ape from the forest floor?

Yes, spectators are more than welcome to watch friends and family trek, swing, crawl and zip from tree to tree. There is no charge for this.

Can I bring my dog?

Dogs are very welcome but must be supervised at all times so someone will have to remain on the ground with them.

Can I wear fancy dress?

Yes we love people wearing fancy dress.

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