SSEC logo Sutherland Shire Environment Centre  

7 th September 2004

Deep concern over opening of Woronora Fire Trail to Public Transport

"The outcome of Council's decision to open the fire trail from Woronora Heights to Woronora Valley for public transport will re-start a bitter fight. There are more negatives than positives from this decision," said Dr Miriam Verbeek, Chair of the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre.

The Council discussed the opening of the 700m fire trail at its meeting on Monday night. The final vote was split with the Mayor making the casting vote.

"We should be praising Council for providing more public transport options, but choosing this route is silly," said Dr Verbeek. "A majority of residents of Woronora Valley and Woronora Heights do not want to have this fire trail opened. No one is sure whether the bus route will be viable but everyone is sure that engineering works will have to be done that will destroy bushland. People are also afraid that once engineering works are done for bus access, the next step will be to upgrade the road to all traffic."

Bushcare groups working at both ends of the fire trail are angered by Council's decision. Said one representative: "The trail at present is a beautiful avenue. Even to get a bus through, you need to chop back the trees near the road. It would destroy a special area." Councillor Redmond, arguing that the fire trail should be made into a road, dismissed environmental concerns, referring to Crescent Creek, running near the trail as "a polluted drain" and added that he expected the fire trail to be opened to much heavier traffic in the future.

Councillors who voted for opening the road argued that opening the fire trail to public transport will reduce vehicle kilometres travelled and associated car emissions, reduce travel times, from Engadine to Menai, and increase public transport usage.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) examining the opening of the fire trail to traffic estimated that about 1% of residents would use a bus service along Northern Access Road route, and a public transport option would cause little environmental impact.

Dr Troy Coyle from the Woronora Valley Association says that the conclusions of the EIS are not as clear as Councillors like to think: "You have an EIS prepared almost five years ago that cannot be relied upon to meet 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 the environmental and aesthetic qualities of the surrounding bushland as well as the Woronora Valley residential area. A new EIS should be prepared prior to the fire trail being opened to public transport and major development carried out around the entrance to the fire trail."

After examining the EIS conclusions and consulting residents, the previous Council decided that the fire trail should be zoned Environment Protection. But this rezoning has not yet occurred. Developers who originally paid a levy to develop a vehicular access road for Woronora Heights residents demanded the money be returned to them if the area is rezoned, but the Engadine Traffic Action Group (ETAG) have fought against rezoning and have obtained a court injunction to stop the money being returned.

"The benefits to the public of opening the road to public transport are marginal," said Dr Miriam Verbeek. "The Sutherland Shire Environment Centre has always argued that when there is doubt whether damage will be done to an environmentally sensitive area by a development and the benefit of the development is not clear, the decision should be on the side of the environment. Council not only ignored this precautionary principle but also ignored the very public agenda of ETAG and Councillor Redmond to provide a northern access route for residents of Engadine which the EIS concludes would be a bad idea."

Contact: Dr Miriam Verbeek, Sutherland Shire Environment Centre, (02) 9545 3077