HYLDA ROLFE. A Sydney icon is under threat – the creeping commercialisation.

In this blog on 20 September 2017 I (John Menadue) described how ‘the new squatters in our National Parks’ are being given commercial access to our ‘public commons’. In NSW and elsewhere National Parks are being deliberately under funded, resulting in park deterioration which will then be used as the pretext for sale or commercialisation.

A former mayor of Woollahra and now Secretary of the Sydney Harbour Association, Hylda Rolfe, in a letter to the Minister for the Environment and Minister for Heritage, Gabrielle Upton, sets out the perils the South Head National Park faces and the unhelpful attitude of the NSW government.       

Dear Minister Upton,

South Head/Gap Bluff sector, Sydney Harbour National Park

Our Association’s Committee is becoming very uneasy about the future of the South Head/Gap Bluff sectors of Sydney Harbour National Park. It is now almost a year since the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service advised that, following consideration of responses to an original proposal by Gap Bluff Holdings (GBH), a revised proposal and accompanying Review of Environmental Factors would be exhibited for further public comment. We are also aware of a later proposal by Moringa/Kadoo Aboriginal Land Corporation. No exhibition material has yet eventuated.

Meanwhile, visual inspection indicates that the external condition of several heritage-classified buildings has continued to deteriorate, markedly in some instances.  Park capital works and maintenance appear to be focussed principally on visitor-oriented risk management as natural and built features age and weather;  we also note with pleasure that the Park grounds are generally kept clear of litter. But presently there is no published revised GBH proposal, or other published detailed program or plan to increase opportunities for visitor appreciation of the Park itself and access to it, or for the kinds of adaptive re-use of buildings that would be consistent with the statutory management principles under which the Park is to operate.

In what has therefore become something of a vacuum, community speculation as to the Government’s intentions for the Park is rife. Judging by what we have learnt, very little-to-none of that speculation is favourable to the Government.  Rather, our local and regional soundings indicate that the viewpoints we record below have wide currency and credence; we summarise them here for your consideration:-

  1. The South Head /Gap Bluff Sector is part of the internationally-celebrated Sydney Harbour National Park, but…
  • even though the South Head/Gap Bluff parkland was ceded by the Commonwealth to New South Wales for specific National Park purposes; and
  • even though the responsible Minister is also the local Member; and
  • and even though the land is dedicated as a National Park and not a commercial site; and
  • and even though there can be no doubt that the local and the New South Wales and the Australian  and the international communities all value this National Park very highly indeed,

….the Government’s actions to date suggest that it has no real appreciation or understanding of – or commitment to – its function as trustee of what is, in real terms, a National icon.

  1. Rather, the policies and practice are thought to suggest that the New South Wales Government does not differentiate the South Head/Gap Bluff sector of the Sydney Harbour National Park from other, less distinguished elements of the public estate. Instead, it is perceived that the Government is acting/will act as if the Park were just another tract of publicly-owned, commercially attractive, land of the high-value kind that has characterised so many of its recent public estate land transactions. The apprehensions arising from that view are certainly alarming, ranging as they do from visions of extensive commercialisation to virtual sale almost regardless of the natural environmental consequences of such an approach, and with resultant associated management policies and practice necessarily focussed primarily on the interests of commercial lessees/tenants.
  2. Were the essential features of such a scenario to eventuate in practice, the protective provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 No 80 [NSW] and the Sydney Regional Environmental Plan (Sydney Harbour Catchment) 2005 – and therefore the Government’s custodial role – would inevitably be seen to have been totally discredited.
  3. The visitor numbers, the location, the natural and cultural heritage and the history of the South Head/Gap Bluff sector of the Sydney Harbour National Park all signify unambiguously its immense value as National Park – land. The Government’s ungenerous and evidently inadequate financial allocations for its upkeep are at odds with the designated status of the lands, and inconsistent with the sustainability which is supposed to underpin the management of the lands as a National Park. Official entertainment of high-intensity commercial proposals unrelated to the National Park purposes of its dedication, such as the GBH offer said to be currently under revision by NPWS, reinforces that perception of disregard and dereliction of duty.

We have hopefully awaited the promulgation of a new, sensitive and forward-looking approach to the protective management of the Park lands. So far, we have discovered no cogent reason for its absence.

Our Association earnestly seeks your support in securing without further delay proper, long-term planning, funding, and management of the South Head/Gap Bluff Parklands, in a form and to the level that is fully consistent with the spirit of the enabling legislation and in the interests of the community’s environmental and cultural values attributable to the magnificent Sydney Harbour National Park as a whole.

Yours sincerely,

Hylda Rolfe, Secretary , Sydney Harbour Association                                                                      September 26  2017

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