Secret plans to sell off Gully bushland

August 21st, 2021

The Gully in Katoomba – yet another vacuous draft Plan of Management by Council, 7 May 2021

 

A Brief Background

 

Back in 2004 a Plan of Management was published for The Gully in Katoomba by its government custodial owner Blue Mountains Council (Council).  This followed three years of Council delegating an off-Mountains consulting firm ‘Environmental Partnership‘ (Ultimo-based) to research and draft an expensive and length report of some 105 pages. 

This 2004 Plan followed a host of previous studies, reviews and reports including ‘The Bell Report’ of 1993 – its correct title being ‘Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Environmental Study‘ of some 87 pages undertaken by environmental consultants F. & J. Bell and Associates Pty Ltd.  This plan in 1993 had been commissioned by local Katoomba environmental activist group ‘The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Inc.‘ (1989-2016) thanks to a $10,000 government grant which was the cost of this very details and independent study into Katoomba Falls Creek Valley, which was Council’s official name of The Gully at the time.   For more information on this study please refer to the Further Reading reference section at the end of this article.

 

The Gully’s evolving names

 

Note that the term ‘The Gully‘ was first officially applied to this creek valley in Katoomba by Council in the 2004 Plan of Management.  This is the 2004 Plan -was ridiculously long title of 16 words verbatim as:  

‘UPPER KEDUMBA RIVER VALLEY Plans of Management Covering the Community Lands within “The Gully” Aboriginal Place’. 

Put that up your jumper!   Here’s the original for reading, download and printing in the public domain:

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It followed That draft document was entitled, which is an affectionate term used by former residents and their descendants from the 1950s and generation prior.  Other terms for The Gully have been:

  1. Blacks Camp‘ (a colonial disparaging term [1870s up to the 1950s] as cited in the book ‘Artificial Horizon – Imagining the Blue Mountains’, p.198, by Martin Thomas, 2004) (being the northern section)
  2. Katoomba Falls Creek Valley‘ (being the entire 70+ hectare creek valley of riparian bushland area still not yet sold off by Council for housing)
  3. Frank Walford Park‘ (being also the northern section)
  4. Walford Park’ (being also the northern section without Cr Walford’s first name ‘Frank’)
  5. McRae’s (horse) Paddock‘ (being the central section)
  6. Selby Street Reserve‘ (being the central section’s eastern side watercourse creek gully from a spring at now Hinkler Park)
  7. Katoomba Falls Reserve Cascades section‘ (being the same central section’s eastern side watercourse creek gully from a spring at now Hinkler Park)
  8. Catalina Park‘ (being the northern section named by Council in the late 1950s on behalf of the Blue Mountains Sporting Car Club Ltd)
  9. Upper Kedumba River Valley‘ (being the entire creek valley as renamed by Council in 2002)
  10. ‘Katoomba Falls Reserve’  (being the southern section dominated by two grass ovals named by Council)
  11. The Gully Aboriginal Place‘ (being a lesser portion of the entire 70+ hectare creek valley of riparian bushland, since many bushblocks of what as Community Land has been sold off for housing, or else rezoned or proposed for rezoning so that Council’s coffers can be boosted by land sales for more housing)
  12. Garguree‘ is apparently a regional Gundungurra Aboriginal word meaning ‘gully’ which was purportedly provided by a local historian into Blue Mountains Aboriginal heritage Jim Smith PhD acting as a consultant to The Gully Traditional Owners (group) circa 2007. 

 

 

Of note, two significant side watercourse gullies flowing into The Gully from the west are excluded from The Gully’s geographic scope by Council’s mapping. 

One side watercourse flows into The Gully through a very large bushland/riparian zone side gully having a land title address of 21 Stuarts Road, Katoomba.  The second to the south flows through what was clear-felled bushland/riparian zone and then bulldozed, graded and fertilized into the now defunct Katoomba Golf Course which Council had backed financially.  This year the site of the old Katoomba Golf Course is being prepared by Council, external consultants again enticing two universities to develop it as believe it or not a ‘Planetary Health Leadership Centre‘ – how hypocritical on a site of ecological destruction!

Recalling the 2004 Plan of Management and its drafting, despite many efforts by locals expressing a keen desire to constructively engage with Council to provide input into this Plan, Council arrogantly shunned these requests, so very little local community consultation went into this 2004 Plan.   

On page 101 under the sub-heading ‘Review of the plan of management‘ it reads as follows:

“It was the intention of the authors (Environmental Partnership) that the progress of implementation should be assessed by Council on an annual basis in terms of the performance measures described in Table 7 and updated or reviewed as appropriate.  It was also outlined in the plan of management that a more comprehensive review should be made after five years to assess the effectiveness of the plan and need for review.”

 

This is the Table 7:

 

Well, neither the annual assessment of progress nor the five year review took place.  None of the core objectives has been achieved by Council since 2004 (nor prior from the Bell Report of 1993) and it is now 2021. 

From our experience over the past twenty years as local activists to save and protect the ecology of The Gully, Council’s ongoing neglect and abuse of The Gully has persisted and particularly Council management’s disdain for local Bushcare volunteers to altruistically request Council to commit to caring for and rehabilitating The Gully’s natural ecology after decades of harm.   

It has taken until 2017 for Council to finally get around to reviewing its 2004 Plan of Management after some thirteen years, because Council was legally required to undertake a formal review of the 2004 Plan of Management – still pending in 2021…

“in accordance with the requirements of the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) and the Crown Land Management Act 2016, and the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) Declared Aboriginal Place Guidelines for Development Management Plans.”     

[SOURCE: ‘Public Hearing for the Proposed Recategorisation of Community Land  in The Gully Aboriginal Place, July 2021, by Parkland Planners, Background Information, page 1, >https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Public-Hearing-for-Proposed-Recategorisation-of-Community-Land-in-The-Gully-Aboriginal-Place-July-2021.pdf]

The 2021 Plan has been prepared by Council’s contracted Environmental Planning Officer Soren Mortensen and Council’s Aboriginal Community Development Officer Brad Moore is vastly different to the 2004 plan.  However a quick comparison of the 2004 Plan and the current 2012 draft Plan reveals that most of 2004 Plan’s 105 pages have been ignored in the 2012 draft plan.   The current 2012 draft plan reads more like a cultural document borrowed from elsewhere and applied to The Gully instead of being as a place-based plan of management for a natural place as is the 2004 plan.

 

Our concerns about Council’s proposed “Re-categorisation” of ‘Community Land’ in The Gully

 

After 20 years experience in trying to consult with Blue Mountains Council about The Gully (respecting this valley, caring for this valley and rehabilitating the valley’s neglected and abused ecology) we have learned not to trust Council management.

 

Whilst The Habitat Advocate is receptive to Council’s proposed reclassification of the current Council-owned community land specifically and only to the defunct Catalina Raceway from being a ‘Sportsground’ to being a ‘Natural Area’, this proposed reclassification is noticeably absent in the Table 2 on page 14 (copy below) of the ‘Background Information document supplied.  The relevant column headed ‘Proposed Categories’ in the table is blank (“-“).  Is this an oversight or intentional?

History is history, and the impost of the racetrack and motocross circuit in the northern section of The Gully back in 1957 involved Council’s forced eviction of numerous poor residents from their simple bush homes, including the violent demolition of their homes by mechanical excavators.  The racetrack remnants remain since the track was ultimately shut down to vehicles permanently in 2003.  We consider it is important the history of the racetrack and this traumatic story is not lost to current and future generations.

We are opposed to the remnants of the bitumen racetrack being destroyed by any excavation works, but rather the track be allowed to be significantly narrowed in width, and to be maintained to facilitate passive recreation use for following purposes:

  1. Recreational Walking (NOT organised running/marathon events)
  2. On-Leash Dog Walking (NOT off-leash and no more mass gatherings of many dogs like the RSPCA’s annual Millions Paws Walk event that invaded The Gully back in May 2004)
  3. Individual Cycling (NOT large groups of cyclists or organised cycling events)
  4. Fire Truck Emergency Access (track to a maximum width of 4 metres wide) in order to facilitate the extinguishing of a bushfire (NOT RFS bush arson/‘hazard reduction’). NB.  The original racetrack width was at least 10 metres wide and has since has the natural bushland retake the invasive bitumen.
  5. Other Passive Uses – such as interpretation and for cultural purposes by the local Aboriginal peoples.

 

However, we are otherwise opposed to Council’s proposed reclassification of the Council-owned community land in The Gully because there are numerous land parcels shown in the supplied mapping on Page 16 (copy below) that indicate their removal from the current community land categorisation shown on page 15 (copy below).  The fear is that this removal will result in Council’s selling the excludes land parcels for housing development and so again profiteer from The Gully as it has in the past. 

 

We also opposed Council’s proposed reclassification because the supplied mapping scale (approx. 1:10,000) is too small a scale ratio to read and to discern the boundary changes accurately.   A more readable map scale ration would be 1:5,000 and we request that Council provide this to all registered stakeholders included in:

  1. Council’s Stakeholder Engagement Methodology (2018-2019)
  2. Council’s Public Hearing for Proposed Re-categorisation of Community Land in The Gully (2021)

Council’s supplied mapping is also obscure.  Whereas the supplied map for the current categorisation (Figure 3 on page 15) is cadastral (that is, shows land parcels) and is overlayed with colour-coded categorisations; the supplied map for Council’s proposed re-categorisations is an aerial photo with the colour-coding overlay in heavy bold which makes it impossible to read accurately.   The comparisons between the two map styles are also difficult to discern.

 

Council’s exclusion of multiple bushland sites from ‘Community Land’ status (protection)

 

Based upon a quick comparison of the two maps, we have concern for the following identified land parcel proposed for removal from current Council –owned Community Land included within The Gully Aboriginal Place, and we ask Council what it the justification and have explanation before this 2021 Draft Plan of Management goes before Council to be approved.

This site is the bushland block across the road from the Katoomba Sports and Aquatic Centre which covers about a hectare at address 34-46 Gates Avenue.

This natural bushland block significantly represents one of the last natural landscapes interconnecting The Gully between the northern section and the central section. It must be naturally preserved intact as part of The Gully’s Community Land zoning (land categorisation).

 

Close inspection of Council’s proposed re-categorisation of Community Land map, shows that this site has been excluded from Council’s Community Land in The Gully Aboriginal Place.  The logical presumption is that Council intend to rezone it ‘Operation Land’ so Council can then legally sell the hectare off to private land use developers into for or five housing lots.  So the bushland gets bulldozed and Council management profiteer with a million dollar bounty. 

 

 

On the above bases, we reject Council’s current (2021) proposed re-categorisation of Council-owned community land in the Gully.

Our concerns above were contributed by The Habitat Advocate to Council in its dedicated Public Hearing held via Zoom online software on Saturday 7th  August 2021 as well as with a follow up email dated 12th August 2021 to Council’s delegated Environmental Planning Officer Soren Mortensen.    However, no acknowledgement of that email has been received from Council.

We have sourced land title mapping of The Gully Water Catchment from Google Maps dated 2021.  There are six maps that cover the water catchment extent of The Gully extending from the Cox’s watershed (Great Western Highway) in the north, down through what was Frank Walford Park and Catalina Raceway, as well as the side watercourse through Selby Reserve (from Hinker Park), and the two watercourses that flow from the west and then to Katoomba Falls Reserve and to Katoomba Falls itself.

We have compared Council’s proposed land re-categorisation map (Figure 4 above) with the land titles on these six mapped sections from Google Maps, and placed an ‘X’ on each identified the land parcel that are bushland within The Gully but which have been excluded in Council proposed recategorisation. 

Not all these bushland lots are Community Land, but many are.   Bushland and swampland land parcels that are categorised by Council as ‘Community Land’ are generally protected from land use development.  However those bushland and swampland land parcels that are excluded from Council’s colouring in Figure 3 above, are NOT protected.  Council could then easily rezone them as ‘Operation Land’ which is the next stage before selling them off for housing development.   Council has a record or doing this throughout the Blue Mountains local government area over decades, including on the periphery of the Gully.

What we wish to illustrate here in these six maps is the scale to which the bushland amenity risks being destroyed for likely housing development and so alter the natural amenity of The Gully forever.

Each map below is in Adobe Acrobat (PDF).  We allow for each map to be zoomed into so as to enable enlarging the map on the screen via Google Docs (free software), as well to be downloaded and printed.

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Further Reading:

 

[1]  The Gully Report No. 8, ‘Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Environmental Study‘, published in 1993, by F.J. Bell and Associates Pty Ltd, (Fred Bell), Sutherland NSW, contains 87 pages in A4 spiral softcover binding, (available internally on this website) >https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/gully-report-no-8-the-bell-report-of-1993/

 

[2]  The Gully Collection, by The Habitat Advocate (available internally on this website), >https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/consultancy/the-gully-in-katoomba/the-gully-collection/

 

Excavator in The Gully getting stuck in with Council approval.  We don’t forget.   This is comparable of how Council forcibly evicted the original residents back in 1957.  (Photo by Editor Sunday 17th February 2008).

 

6 Responses to “Secret plans to sell off Gully bushland”

  1. Guy Jeffrey says:

    Thank you for your work on this. We live diagonally opposite the parcel of bushland on the corner of Peckmans Road and Gates Avenue, and we are very concerned with development of that land as well as that opposite our home. Please let us know more and what we can do about it.
    Best regards,
    Guy Jeffrey

  2. Lidia Nemitschenko says:

    I live close to the Gully area and I am deeply disturbed by the information you have provided concerning Council’s intention to possibly? probably? severely impact on the nature of this area by selling parcels of land off for residential purposes. I was not aware that there was a Zoom consultation – no information received about this from the Council. Your flyer is the first piece of information I have received about this and I am grateful to you for alerting me and other residents to this.
    I will be contacting Kerry Brown, Kevin Schreiber and Don McGregor to express my concern and dismay as well as writing to Mark Greenhill.

    I would be grateful for any further information you can provide.

    Regards,

    Lidia Nemitschenko

  3. Conservationist says:

    Hello Guy,

    Thank you for your contributed and concerned input to this article; it is appreciated.
    We and our supporters are Gully locals same.

    You also ask “what we can do about it?”
    Please follow our guidelines on our circulated flyer these past days.

    Please also learn more about the background on The Gully, which we are updating content regularly:
    https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/consultancy/the-gully-in-katoomba/the-gully-collection/

    Also, walk around The Gully to experience it.

    In trust, you may email us at the following address: habitatadvocate@gmail.com

    We do not monitor this daily so please bear with us.

    Ed.

  4. Conservationist says:

    Hello Lidia,

    Thanks for your feedback.
    And yes, please inform our local councillors as you have indicated.

    As to more updated information…I suggest:

    1. Please monitor:
    https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/consultancy/the-gully-in-katoomba/the-gully-collection/

    2. Email us at: habitatadvocate@gmail.com

    3. Walk around The Gully to enjoy its special presence and to observe.

    Cheers,
    Ed.

  5. Lidia says:

    Hello Ed,
    I live right next to the Gully and walk there every day (though not when it’s as wet as today). It is a very special place and it saddens me that there are plans to destroy sections of it.
    I hope protests from the community will make Council reconsider. Regards, Lidia

  6. Conservationist says:

    Hello Lidia,

    Yes The Gully is a very special place and anyone who lives within the catchment likely recognises and appreciates your sentiments and values like our family does, thanks.
    Quite right, the inclement cold front yesterday which became snow following a few days of balmy Spring like conditions, was another reminder of the changeable nature of our Mountains variable weather – magic stuff!

    We invite all readers to monitor our articles on The Gully, which can be dynamic (updateable) and ongoing.
    We also hope protests from the community will make Council reconsider.

    We also invite locals to contribute their constructive input and articles to us if they so choose to have a REAL say.
    This is the initial contact link: https://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/about-us/contact-us/

    We do cop a lot of unwanted spam, so we have to screen online content accordingly.

    Regards,
    Steven

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Gully Plan for 2021 is unbelievably No.19

August 25th, 2021

Locals in and around The Gully water catchment area situated on the western side of the rural township of Katoomba may be astounded by the following truths we at The Habitat Advocate have gleamed of late about Blue Mountains Council’s legacy of plans for The Gully.

An analysis by our editor into the archival records maintained by The Habitat Advocate reveals that this current report/plan by Blue Mountains Council entitled The Gully Aboriginal Place Draft Plan of Management dated 7th May 2021 is actually Plan Number 19.  

Don’t believe it?   Well we have a copy of almost every one of the nineteen reports, and these are just the ones we know about.  This revelation comes after being a member of one of the longest lasting environmental groups in the Blue Mountains region, ‘The Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Inc.’ which lasted for 28 years initially forming informally in 1988 to protest and lobby against the Catalina Raceway from 1988 incensed by Bob Jane’s helicopter buzzing low over residents’ homes around what was then Catalina Park.   Over the span of half a lifetime, The Friends fought many a campaign against a host of environmental threats to the valley/gully and amassed a considerable record of material during that period.

The following is our list of the planning reports into The Gully:

 

List of Plans for The Gully, so far…

 

  1. Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Environmental Study A & B (date TBA)
  2. FWP – ‘Bushland Management and Report’, (date TBA)
  3. Frank Walford Park Master Plan for Development 1955 (car racetrack), by Katoomba Municipal Council
  4. Draft Assessment of Frank Walford Park, Katoomba – Land Suitability, Environmental Constraints, circa 1980
  5. Frank Walford Park Management Plan 1981, 54 pages
  6. Katoomba Falls Creek Valley by Neil Stuart (provided to Wentworth Falls TAFE Library on special reserve), 1988 and revised in 1991
  7. Katoomba Falls Reserve Draft Plan of Management, Volume 1, by Mandis Roberts Consultants for Blue Mountains City Council and  the NSW Department of Lands, April 1990 (possibly a Volume 2 as well)              
  8. Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Environmental Study – Part 1 (Draft Report and Management Plan of 87 pages) and Part 2 (Technical Reports, Data and Analysis of 55 pages) by Fred Bell of F.& J. Bell and Associates Pty Ltd and Dr Val Attenbrow, June 1993
  9. The Gully Archaeological Grant Project, 16th August 1995
  10. ‘Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Draft Plan of Management – Main Report’, by Des Brady of Connell Wagner Pty Ltd, of approximately 150 pages, April 1996       
  11. Frank Walford Park Plan of Management, December 1998
  12. Upper Kedumba Valley, Katoomba – Report on the cultural significance of Upper Kedumba Valley for declaration as an Aboriginal Place prepared by Dianne Johnson with Dawn Colless for NPWS, 162 pages, 3rd July 2000
  13. Draft Katoomba-Leura Vegetation Management Plan by Blue Mountains City Council, December 2000, 46 pages,
  14. Upper Kedumba River Valley Plan of Management (The Gully Aboriginal Place – Council Revised Edition, (Spiral Bound, 105 pages) by Environmental Partnership, February 2004
  15. Final Report for Sydney Catchment Authority – Catchment & Improvement Grant No. 44 Upper Kedumba River Vallkey, prepared by members of Kedumba Creek Bushcare 7 Blue Mountains City Council March 2005, 27 pages.
  16. A Heritage Study of the Gully Aboriginal Place, Katoomba, New South Wales by Allan Lance of Heritage Consulting Australia Pty Ltd August 2005 (2 versions – a detailed confidential version for the local Aboriginal peoples and a second summary version for Blue Mountains City Council, 113 pages)
  17. Construction Environmental Management Plan – Blue Mountains Sewer Trunk Mains Amplification: Upper Kedumba River Valley, South Katoomba Sewerage Catchment by Total Earth Care Pty Ltd for Sydney Water and Blue Mountains City Council, 17th October 2007, approximately 50 pages.
  18. Reconnecting to Country – Progress Report #2 by Rouse Water, Council, Gully Traditional Owners, Sustainable Futures Australia, Widjabul Custodians, September 2009. (possibly a Progress Report #1 as well)
  19. The Gully Aboriginal Place Draft Plan of Management 7th May 2021, by Soren Mortensen and Brad Moore, Blue Mountains City Council, 142 pages.

 

 

As Council currently prepares its final version of its 2021 plan version for The Gully, the obvious critique we posit to Council is that it is about time Council actually focuses on implementing its plans rather repeatedly spending money having more plans written.   

We point out that the only plan on The Gully that Council has funded out of its budget (ratepayers’ money) and not from external grants was the construction of the racetrack in 1959.   And then the funding was a loan to the then Blue Mountains Sporting Drivers’ Club Ltd, a collection of wealthy local business men who persuaded Council to bulldoze the homes of the poor residents so they could race cars on a new racing circuit. 

Council’s loan was in excess of £20,000 (say $40,000 equivalent at the time), which in today’s value would be in excess of $600,000…and the rest. 

[SOURCE:  Minutes of Special Meeting of the Council (duly convened) , Tuesday 13th day of January 1959, page 8, Item 45, signed as validated by the Mayor and Town Clerk and verbatim thus:

“Car Racing Track – Catalina Park, Katoomba. Page A12 Town Clerk’s Report.

Resolved on the motion of Alderman K. Smith and W. Smith that consideration be given when dealing with the Loan Estimates for 1959/60 to the inclusion of an amount of about £20,000 for the construction of a blacktopped surface to the racing track and the provision of adequate safety fencing.”

 

That ratepayer loan by Council to the Blue Mountains Sporting Drivers’ Club Ltd was never repaid. 

Irresponsibly, council management and councillors at the time were mindful of Council’s massively over-indebtedness to the tune of £155,460 (excluding Electricity debts).   Records show that Council at the time had been threatened by legal action to withdraw its claim for loan recovery.  So likely due to Council’s then dire indebtedness at the time, Council cowered, backed off and wrote off racing track loan to its business mates.

  

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