Lismore City Council will consider taking control of a popular ‘paper’ road on the edge of Nimbin to enable it to continue to be used as a community walking and cycling trail.
The section of Hutchison Road locally known as Bellbird Forest Track has been regularly used by members of the local community for more than a century, supporters say, and has been maintained solely by volunteers.
But the Department of Trading and Investment (DTI) has recently begun selling off a number of so-called ‘paper roads’, unformed road reserves, where the land remains in Crown hands and appears on cadastre maps but no road is ever planned to be built on the site.
LCC tightened up a notice of motion before it last week to consider just the one road, after it was pointed out a motion to look at all the paper roads in the LGA would be too time-consuming.
Councillors voted (Cr Schiebl and Meineke against) to look at taking control of Hutchinson Road and to negotiate a licensing agreement with the Nimbin Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) or the Australian Long Forest Association (ALFA) to ensure that no maintenance costs will be incurred by Council.
If this process takes time, Council have resolved to ask the DTI to ‘park’ the further sale of Crown lands until the project viability is complete, as there is a December 17 deadline overhanging the sale of the land.
Community maintains site
Natalie Myler spoke on behalf of the NNC at public access time and said there was never a request to investigate the entire road reserve network and that such a large area should be considered at the NOROC level.
‘The larger network is considered as part of the rail trail feasibility study, Sustainable Northern Rivers Transport and RDA Northern Rivers,’ said Ms Myler.
‘We are only specifically interested in Hutchinson Road for LCC consideration,’ she said. ‘It is currently and regularly in use by the community [and has been] for over 100 years.’
Ms Myler said that community groups upkeep the track without any contribution from the DTI.
‘The user groups have maintained this track for many years out of their own time and expense,’ she said.
According to Ms Myler, Hutchinson Road is currently not subject to any lease or licensing with adjoining landowners.
‘Even if it were it should not preclude public access to this road,’ she said.
‘The long historical community use of the land should not be extinguished by new ownership of adjoining land.
‘Landowners come and go over time but the community does not.’
Ms Myler said, ‘the maintenance has continued despite the uncertainty of ownership and control of the land; this would be significantly relieved if the matter of ownership were finally settled.’
Councillors were assured by Ms Myler that this wasn’t a request for funding.
She said that relevant objections had been lodged with the DTI about the sale of the Crown land to private ownership.
The DTI have given a date of Tue December 17 to make arrangements for Hutchison Road or it will be sold to a private landowner.
Ms Myler said that the status quo is not a consideration for Council as there has been a clear indication from the DTI that the road reserve will be sold.
Cr Clough said the Nimbin community have proven they are self-sufficient so there was ‘no doubt they have already maintained Hutchinson Road and will continue to do so’.
Possible tourist trail
Cr Neil Marks moved the original notice of motion and has been aware of this trail initiative for some time.
‘Like all good ideas they need time to germinate,’ said Cr Marks.
Cr Marks said Hutchinson Road is a possible tourist trail.
‘We have a great tourism organisation here at LCC. I am sure that those planners and the like will be able to nut out the real potential in this. At least we can ask for a hold on selling these off,’ he said.
Cr Marks said he deliberately included all the road reserves in the investigation to look at the bigger picture, but understood the emergency surrounding Hutchinson Road.
Cr Simon Clough successfully moved the amended motion to narrow the investigation to only include Hutchinson Road.
‘Cr Marks and I are very much on the same page here but the scope of his notice of motion is too wide,’ said Cr Clough.
Cr Gianpiero Battista said that Council will still have to review other road reserves in the future.
Cr Mathew Schiebl spoke against both notices of motion and said there were no ‘references to the property owners themselves; I think we fail as a council to make reference to the owner of the land a lot of the time’.
Cr Schiebl said he supports tourism investment initiatives in the area but sees this as an ‘inconvenience to the landowner… unfenced paper roads with scattered cattle, I can see it ending in disaster’.
Cr Vanessa Ekins said, ‘the Crown is the owner of the land; you must be referring to the owner of adjoining land, Cr Schiebl.’
Mayor Jenny Dowell said ‘the investigation would consider all users of that land’.
The Australian Long Forest Association (ALFA) was formed in 2007 to establish long forest networks in Australia and advocates across many local government areas.
Spokesperson for ALFA Miranda Williamson told Echonetdaily that Council’s decision is ‘exciting as this is the start of the vision for the long forest’.
Long Forests are an unbroken network of wildlife corridors and bridle paths that have existed in Britain and Europe for aeons. In South Australia there are plans to create 7,000 kilometres of new tracks and there are networks in New South Wales and Queensland already in existence.
‘These will benefit our wildlife as many have trouble getting across denuded land. Walkers, riders and non-motorised cyclists will also benefit and provide low-impact eco-tourism development for our area that will reward us for looking after our environment,’ Ms Williamson said.
Ms Williamson said, ‘the state government should hold back selling off Crown road reserves until the people of NSW have had a chance to work out a viable network’.
The unformed road reserves are legally part of the main road system. Ms Williamson said ‘legislation needs to be changed at state level to change this’.
‘The status needs to be changed from road reserves to just Crown reserves that will not have motorised access,’ she said.
According to Ms Williamson, there need to be alternative networks to avoid conflicts of usage.
‘We need somewhere safe to walk and ride in peace that are ribbons in the natural landscape for us and for wildlife,’ said Ms Williamson.
‘It is no longer safe for pedestrians, horse riders or cyclists to use the same route as motorised traffic because of the volume and speed of traffic.’
Ms Williamson said there are many precedents that show non-motorised trail users can safely exist together.
‘We are not reinventing the wheel. These trails have been established around Australia and the world that have mixed use with no issues of safety.’