Hornsby Shire Council purchased a block of land from Sydney Water in June 2016 to cater for the needs of the whole community. Very quickly their staff realised that there was a high diversity of species present (244) in the bushland part of the Westleigh site including five vegetation communities, two threatened ecological communities, 4 species of threatened flora, 11 species of native orchids and 50 species of birds observed on the site. Their internal reports detailed the conservation significance of the flora and fauna.
Most of the community had obeyed the Sydney Water signs and fencing excluding them from the area. But mountain bikers were not deterred and by 2017 had built 5km network of trails.
In July 2020 external Ecological Consultants noted the major impacts on vegetation from 9 km of mountain bike trails throughout the forest impacting on threatened species, EEC’s, and the adjoining Biobanking sites. They advised council that the existing trail network had been constructed without environment assessment and without collaboration with landowners. No education program had been provided to mountain bike community regarding the impact of their activities on ecological values (and human health through asbestos movement) The length, width and construction activity of trails had noticeably increased since acquisition of the land by Council. As a result, soil erosion, soil and seed translocation and vegetation damage had also noticeably increased. These key issues threaten the integrity of the native vegetation to a point that some areas were at risk of approaching an ecological threshold.
In 2021 Council produced a draft master plan for Westleigh Park which was the subject of a community consultation.
Unable to agree on the master plan for a mountain bike trail network in the critically endangered forest, council then ran another consultation culminating in the co-design workshops. Ultimately, the co-design participants did not come to a consensus regarding the trail design.
In October 2022 the $50K Outcomes Engagement report was released. It was unanimously rejected by the non-MTB participants. They felt the bias was strongly in favour of the mountain bike groups. The final set of 16 workshop participants were carefully vetted by council, 50% were mountain bikers, 25% were local residents and 25% were conservationists.
Council hired an independent mountain bike track designer to present to the co-design workshop and despite repeated requests there was no independent ecologist to explain the fragility and significance of these critically endangered communities.
The initial workshops included the option of no trails in the bushland but the final co-design trail workshops narrowed the brief to remove this as an option.
Council have released the business papers for the Westleigh Park Master Plan and Plan of Management which will be placed on public exhibition. This Master Plan is a big win for the mountain bikers, they are effectively being rewarded for their illegal and destructive activity. 7km of trails remain in the bushland, all apart from 2 will exclude walkers. There are still numerous trails through Critically Endangered and Endangered Forests at the site.
The Regional Sporting Centre will bring in a huge amount of traffic and people, also impacting the forest. Council are refusing to release the Fauna Studies before the public exhibition.
Environmental and Community groups have joined together under Save Westleigh Park to fight for a fairer and broader community perspective.