Key points about trees and bushfire risks at Middle Head

Key points about trees and bushfire risks at Middle Head

Address by Marta Sengers, HPG Committee Member, to Mosman Council Meeting 4 March 2014

Before I start I must make the following disclaimer: at every stage of our campaign we have relied on the documentation given to us by the Trust. So if in interpreting the proposed actions we have made errors these are not intentional. To the best of our ability we are stating the facts as we know them.

At our previous public meetings held in Mosman I have spoken around key points in the development application for the proposed private residential aged care home on Middle Head in Headland Park, and these form part of the argument why we want the Trust to disapprove this development application and why we want Mosman councillors to vote yes to the motion that is before Council tonight.

Some of these points include:

  • size of the proposed site around 25000 square metres (6 acres)
  • the development of new larger buildings
  • footprints would almost double
  • 10 terminal a heritage building would be substantially altered with the addition of a 2nd story and infill buildings and overhead walkways joining them together
  • garden areas (as well as decks and courtyards) to be made private and fenced off as well as the creation of ‘right of way’ use and access of public spaces adjoining the development

We also highlighted the errors and inaccuracies in the proponents development application documents, these are too numerous to repeat and they are also listed on www.hpg.org.au, but they include:

  • The buildings to the immediate west of the site have been adaptively re-used for temporary visitors accommodation.” – There is no (nor has there ever been) ‘accommodation’ anywhere in Middle Head Precinct. The inclusion of this statement suggests a precedent and that by association that a residential facility is acceptable for the site.
  • Parts of the site have been used for dumping (illegal or otherwise)” – We don’t believe this is evident, open spaces on the site are currently fenced off (for security and safety); spaces appear to be used for storage including stones and garden material. It appears to be a misleading statement designed to devalue the site in people’s minds.
  • The site is conveniently located to public transport” – No NOT convenient, the site is really very isolated! Bus services run from 7am to 7pm and apart form a few extra services at peak hours, these are hourly.

We have also studied the environmental impacts and I would like to focus on two of these:

First trees – the proposal states that “18 Trees will be removed” – a close study of the proponents plans (see diagram below) shows that in fact the trees to be removed stand at 59!

  • The landscape plan drawing number 001 C shows clearly marked in red a total of 49 trees that would be removed.
  • A further landscape plan drawing 100E also states that there are an extra 10 trees earmarked for removal for “open pace upgrading”.

There are also other trees at risk these are located very close to the perimeters of proposed footprints they may be damaged or disturbed. The removal of this number of trees ail substantially alter the look and feel (i.e. open bushland) of the Middle Head precinct.

Secondly the entire proposed development is located on land identified by Mosman Council as bush fire prone and will be located entirely within 100 meters of dangerous category 1 bushland.

The proposed aged care home at Middle Head would include 55 high care places, designed for people who are incapacitated (presumably in wheel chairs) requiring 24 hour care. Locating aged care home (with 55 high places for people with disabilities who require 24/7 care) in dangerous bushfire Category 1 areas, would normally require a buffer zone of 100 metres, which would exclude the whole of the proposed development.

State Environmental Planning Controls now restrict developments, especially aged care, where there is only one road in and out. This situation applies to Middle Head Road, where the proposed new facility would be built. For example Huon Park Aged Care on Bobbin Head Road Turramurra would not be approved today, because like Middle Head it is surrounded by bushland and it has only one road access.

If the proposed development was not on Commonwealth land it could not be approved unless the RFS gave a special clearance certificate. But because it is on Commonwealth owned land there is a suggestion that these regulations may not apply. The Trust admits that a Bushfire Protection Assessment for the proposed development has not been prepared.

Download Mosman Council’s Bushfire Prone Land Map here…

Middle Head is heavily wooded and has a history of bush fires. During army occupation the land at Middle Head and surrounds were subjected to regular reduction burning of bushland, we don’t think this been done for decades.

Gavin Souter’s book “Mosman A History” mentions bush fires including:

  • 1826 – a huge bushfire swept through the area and ‘burn’t all before it till the sea stopt it at Georges Head. (Tommy O’Neil), 1859 and 1932

Newspaper archives reveal a history fires on Middle Head:

  • 1929 – ” A bushfire which was raging over a large area at Middle Head last night provided a brilliant spectacle, particularly when viewed from ferry steamers travelling to Manly. Flames shooting high into the air from scrub and trees were visible for miles around” (SMH 2 Feb 1929)
  • 1936 – “a bushfire swept though hundreds of acres of dense bush and scrub from George’s Head to Obelisk Bay near Middle Head.” (SMH 7 Nov 1936)
  • 1937 – “10 Firemen from the Mosman station had a hard fight yesterday with a bushfire on Middle Head… the blaze was on the harbour side of the Mosman Golf Links, near the military Barracks” (SMH 5 Feb 1937)
  • 1944 – a bush fire at Middle Head where firefighters had “pumps running for over 4 hours” before the fire was under control. (SMH 11 Nov 1944)
  • And within the last 20 years we have had at least two bush fires very close by. One at Middle Head and one at Grotto Point.

The proposed development has not addressed bush fire safety, from the narrow access roads through National Park, to the placement of the aged care facilities near to a recognised bush fire safety hazard, nor has it taken into account local planning laws.

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