A $1 million plan to upgrade Murwillumbah’s Knox Park over the next few years to make it more user-friendly, including a complete makeover of its popular pond, will destroy a popular bird-watching area, according to some councillors.
The master plan for the park’s upgrade to include an educational wetland and botanical area, picnic shelters and barbecue, new toilets, adventure playground, ‘youth precinct skate plaza’ and a half basketball court will soon go on display for three months.
In his report to Tweed Shire Council last week, engineering director Patrick Knight said Council would receive $500,000 from the Regional Development Australia Fund for the upgrade and match it dollar for dollar.
Mr Knight said the upgrade was expected to encourage greater use of the park ‘particularly by young people and their families, and directly address safety concerns raised by young people and the wider community’.
He said the pond, currently a nesting and roosting site for ibis and other bird species, would be ‘reconfigured to allow for access to the central island and across the pond along with decking and shelters along the edge’.
It would have signage around it ‘informing the public about the ecological design and environmental benefits’.
But Cr Gary Bagnall says the upgrade meant the ‘destruction of a major habitat of birds right in the heart of town’.
‘Local birdwatchers recorded many birds there recently, including some rare ones. It’s going to upset a lot of people around there,’ Cr Bagnall said.
‘It will mean removal of a good part of the rainforest planting to accommodate a children’s playground and the destruction of the bird breeding grounds there.
‘Both will significantly impact on local bird life.
‘The rainforest and the pond should instead be joined to create an urban wildlife sanctuary.
‘Ironically, a national ibis count is to be conducted on 20 October and most important is the count in NSW.
‘The ibis numbers are dropping. Of interest is the bird itself. Why is it found in urban areas now? Most likely because of the loss of wetlands to development.
‘I believe the areas around the south Murwillumbah industrial estate was a wetland and the local ibis nested there. The area was drained and filled, so where do the ibis go now?
‘The Knox Park pond has about eight varieties of birds that live or feed there. Not just the ibis.
‘Also, I’m told the Tweed River Festival to be held in November has the theme “Birds of the Tweed” and includes a couple of bird-watching tours along the Tweed, yet here we are removing bird habitat,’ Cr Bagnall said.
A longtime local resident who walks his dog around the pond said he was ‘horrified’ at the thought the pond and its island would be rebuilt with a bridge through it.
‘It is the best part about this park. All these birds, not just ibis, but swamp hens, corellas and other migratory species enjoy the safety the island offers them; it’s like a refuge for them,’ the elderly gent told Echonetdaily.
Mr Knight said the new ‘youth space’ will be ‘enhanced by locating it closer to the multipurpose community centre, which was opened in Knox Park in 2012 and includes a dedicated youth centre staffed by two youth-related services’. The existing skatepark and play equipment would be replaced by the new integrated youth space which would be designed and managed by young people and other members of the community.
‘After-hours use of the space will be boosted by local youth service providers, who will use it to stage events and activities,’ he said.
A move by Crs Bagnall and Katie Milne to delete the proposed access to the island before putting the draft master plan on public exhibition for three months was lost with the other five councillors rejecting it.
Councillors then voted to place it on exhibition for three months. A Council spokesman said the exhibition period will soon start and the public will be notified beforehand.
The staff report has a timeline that includes dates for public engagement and the adoption of the draft, due later this year, with completion of construction works by October 2015.