Lismore City Council’s (LCC) controversial plan to take over a ‘paper trail’ in the Nimbin area and turn it into a walking and cycling track has been ditched.
The investigation of transferring ownership of an unformed section of Hutchinson Road, Nimbin, from Crown lands to council was shut down this week following extended debate at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
The move is a dramatic turnaround from council’s previous decision to consult all stakeholders and look into the viability of a possible tourist trail.
It came after strong representation by one local landholder and despite council staff apparently failing to respond to or consult with a key stakeholder group.
And the councillor who moved to ditch the plan is the same one who initially moved to support it.
Councillor Neil Marks successfully passed a motion in December last year ‘to investigate possible usage of the paper trail’ but subsequently admitted that he had ‘got it wrong’.
‘I am not changing my support of the idea of trails for Nimbin, what I am changing tonight is that we need to look at the impacts on farm owners and individuals who will be impacted upon by our decisions,’ said Cr Marks.
‘We cannot ensure that each user of the trail will be covered by insurance therefore we as council could be liable,’ he said.
‘Forcing a tourist venture through someone else’s property cannot be supported.’
But Cr Gianpiero Battista successfully moved an amendment to Cr Mark’s motion (Schiebl, Marks and Meineke against) to include a meeting with the Australian Long Forest Association (ALFA) and other stakeholders to examine options for the trail other than a land transfer.
Both Cr Simon Clough and Cr Vanessa Ekins said that the council’s process had been extremely poor by discontinuing the investigation.
Cr Clough said ‘we have not heard from ALFA and the other groups concerned, which we had voted to do, so we do not have all the information before us.
‘As a council that prides itself on due process and public engagement, we owe it to all parties to come together and put their cases to us in a workshop and we can make a much more informed decision.’
Cr Ekins said that ‘LCC has embarked on a process to discuss the possibilities of the trail so to end the process before it is even started is breaking faith with our community.’
‘Stakeholders have tried to contact staff with no success,’ she said.
The current mapping of the paper trail bisects the property of Jennifer Smith, who spoke at public access time and told council that she opposed the plan to open up their property to tourists and locals for a number of reasons.
‘This would have a profound effect on wildlife and would impact on our water catchment and soil erosion,’ said Ms Smith.
She added there have been landslips in the area and said that some councillors walked the trail on her property and were shown the slips.
Ms Smith continued that there was also concerned about disease and weed control.
‘Walking boots, horses that carry ticks and spread other diseases and tyre treads that have been driven through weeds and other foreign matter all increase the risk of spreading disease and weeds onto our property,’ she said.
According to Ms Smith, adjoining landholders are shooting wild dogs, which could add danger to people using the track.
‘Our neighbourhood is also concerned about the area changing from farming to the tourist industry, attracting people from all around the world,’ she said.
‘We will have no control over what they will bring in like viruses that could affect crops such as finger limes.’
Ms Smith said she was advised by the DPI that two properties adjoining Hutchinson Road have been quarantined for 12 months, which added further concern about protection.
She said that the paper trail ‘bisects the centre’ of their property which if opened up to a trail ‘would render the property useless and make it very difficult obtaining public liability insurance’.
A member of the gallery commented loudly that the owners would have been aware of this when purchasing their property.
Rubbish collection, provision of toilets and fire hazards were also mentioned by Ms Smith as areas for council’s concern.
Ms Smith made comment about the potential of motorised vehicles being allowed to use the track which councillor Simon Clough asked her to clarify.
‘Whilst it is a Crown road trail it is only for push bike riders and horse riders, but if LCC owns the land it becomes a council road and 4WDs and motorised vehicles will be allowed on it,’ she said.
‘We were told by the local police that the 4WD club are dying to get hold of this road.’
Councillor Meineke asked Ms Smith how many users of the trail she had seen since owning the property.
‘We purchased the property in May of last year and have seen two walkers who have walked past once,’ she said.
Secretary of Australian Long Forest Association, Mazz Webb, also spoke at public access and told council that LCC made no attempt at consulting ALFA as it had committed to in council’s decision last year.
Ms Webb also condemned LCC manager of assets Scott Turner who referred to ALFA as ‘a bunch of local horse riders’ in his notes.
‘Mr Turner is also incorrect with his statements of usage of the trail; he has not approached ALFA at all,’ said Ms Webb.
‘We have tried calling and emailing courteously and have had no consultation.’
‘ALFA members include local walkers, bush regenerators, teachers, environmentalists, wildlife carers, horse riders, mountain bike riders and others concerned with the public ownership of Crown roads,’ she said, ‘tracks that access the local beauty of our area and provide much needed corridors for our wildlife.’
Ms Webb presented a map that indicated an alternative route for the paper trail to skirt the Smith’s property.
‘What we have always wanted is the chance to discuss things of mutual benefit,’ said Ms Webb.
Ms Webb explained that there were a few options for insurance available including the Bushwalkers of NSW and horse riding insurance.
‘Insurance is not an issue for the landholders,’ she said.
Ms Webb questioned why ALFA were not included on the walk taken by councillors.
‘I wonder if they were even taken on the gazetted track and what other misinformation they were given to make such a major turnaround in their decision,’ she said.
At a time when rail trails are coming closer to reality in northern NSW, Ms Webb believes LCC should not miss this opportunity.
‘It would be unfortunate for our area if we lose this opportunity as councils in many parts of Australia are working on creating tracks for the recreational, environmental and economic benefits they bring,’ she said.