Hornsby Shire Council is considering sanctioning the network of mountain bike trails that have been illegally built through Critically Endangered and Endangered Ecological Communities at Westleigh Park.
Council’s recent consultation culminated in a 3-day co-design workshop focusing on the main stakeholders – mountain bikers, conservationists and residents.
This $50K consultation outcome report has been unanimously rejected by the non-MTB participants. They felt the bias was strongly in favour of the mountain bike groups. The final set of 16 workshop participants were carefully vetted by council, 50% were mountain bikers, 25% were local residents and 25% were conservationists.
Council hired an independent mountain bike track designer to present to the co-design workshop and despite repeated requests there was no independent ecologist to explain the fragility and significance of these critically endangered communities.
The initial workshops included the option of no trails in the bushland but the final co-design trail workshops narrowed the brief to remove this as an option.
Hornsby Shire Council purchased the land in 2016 from Sydney Water to cater for the needs of the whole community. Council staff identified pristine bushland with large intact areas of the rare Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest and Duffys Forest. Most of the community had obeyed the Sydney Water signs and fencing excluding them from the area. But mountain bikers were not deterred and by 2017 had built 5km network of trails.
Hornsby Council did not effectively prevent the building of illegal trails and by 2020 ecological consultants warned council that “No education program has been provided to mountain bike community regarding the impact of their activities on ecological values (and human health through asbestos movement). The length, width and construction activity of trails has noticeably increased since acquisition of the land by Council. As a result, soil erosion, soil and seed translocation and vegetation damage has also noticeably increased. These key issues threaten the integrity of the native vegetation to a point that some areas are currently at risk of approaching an ecological threshold.”
They also confirmed the vegetation mapping which includes significant areas of Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest (STIF) Critically Endangered Ecological Community under NSW BC Act 2016 and Commonwealth EPBC Act and Duffys Forest which is listed as Endangered under the NSW BC Act 2016. The mountain bike trail network traverses through significant patches of STIF as well as populations of Darwinia biflora and Melaleuca deanei (EPBC Act, BC Act), Tetratheca glandulosa (BC Act) and habitat that supports the Square-tailed Kite (BC Act).
In 2021 Council produced a draft master plan for Westleigh Park which was the subject of a community consultation. Unable to agree on the master plan for a mountain bike trail network in the critically endangered forest, they then ran another consultation culminating in the co-design workshops.
Environmental and Community groups are joining together under Save Westleigh Park to fight for a fairer and broader community perspective.