Over 300 people attended a protest rally on Sunday, 22 January, to oppose proposals for accommodation at Barrenjoey Headland.
Gathered in the car park at the northern end of Governor Phillip Park, Palm Beach, the crowd was opposing NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) proposals for ‘adaptive reuse’ of historic buildings, including potential short stay accommodation, as part of a Draft Plan of Management.
The protest rally was organised by the Palm Beach & Whale Beach Association (PB&WBA), with an impressive crowd turning out on a rainy Sunday morning to hear from a range of impassioned speakers whose spirit was not dampened by the weather.
PB&WBA Secretary Robert MacKinnon (image above) laid out twelve concerns the group had, some of which included the lack of lighting and vehicular access, the need (and cost) to change the buildings to make them suitable for accommodation, denial of public access, and impact on the heritage status of the site. Instead, Mr MacKinnon proposed the structures be used for alternative community purposes, such as community arts and culture.
Against the picturesque backdrop of Barrenjoey Headland, a number of other speakers addressed the crowd, including local Garigal man Uncle Neil Evers (image above), opposition Shadow Minister for Heritage and Environment Penny Sharpe (image below), Labor candidate for Pittwater Jeffrey Quinn, and The Greens candidate for Pittwater Hilary Green.
Ms Sharpe said Labor opposed the commercialisation of National Parks, calling for the Draft Plan of Management not to be approved until after the NSW Election. Ms Sharpe also called on the government to ‘properly fund’ the NPWS so that commercial arrangements in National Parks would not be necessary to fund operations.
Teal Independent candidate for Pittwater Jacqui Scruby did not attend as she was on holiday overseas, but was represented by a number of people in the crowd wearing campaign T-shirts. Long-time Palm Beach resident, filmmaker, and former Independent candidate for Northern Beaches Council, James Ricketson, expressed his concern at the potential impact on the heritage buildings.
Incumbent Member for Pittwater and NSW Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes (image above, left) was present at the meeting but deferred his spot to Councillor Rory Amon (image above, right) as the next Liberal candidate for Pittwater.
Cr Amon acknowledged the concerns held by many in the crowd, announcing concessions following a meeting with the NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage James Griffin, who holds responsibility for NPWS.
“I had a constructive conversation with Minister Griffin. What he has undertaken is the Plan of Management won’t be signed before the election.
“His department will be forming a strategic reference group, which will consist of residents and relevant experts to have direct input into the future of the Draft Plan of Management, that can include things like having cultural activities in those facilities there.
“Minister Griffin confirmed that the Boatman’s Cottage, which is at the bottom and currently lived in by the caretaker Col, will remain for the caretaker. That won’t be turned into accommodation or any other facility.
“What is also confirmed is that there’s not going to be any widening of the road, as people have alluded to. That means there’s going to be no increased capacity for more activity up on the headland,” said Cr Amon.
Cr Amon said investment into Barrenjoey Headland was needed, and the NSW Government had delivered, or were in the process of delivering, important improvements.
“The broader point to make is that since the fires in 2013, the NSW Government has invested $5.3m in the headland, with over $3m for bush regeneration and getting the road into a proper state.
“The reason why that road needed to be put into a proper state is because there were real issues getting up there with fire trucks during those 2013 fires. I know directly because I was there with my Rural Fire Brigade on the day when that happened.
“Then you’ve also got another $2m plus allocated for the toilets, which are going up there. They have been long supported, accepted and advocated for by the community.
“We are heading in the right direction. There can’t be an acceptance or rejection of the plan now, because if you want to get cultural activities up there, we have to get the right words in the plan.
“That requires consultation with the community, broader consultation with other relevant stakeholders within government, and heritage experts. To get the best outcome, it’s good that this has been delayed until after the election, so we can get what the community want,” said Cr Amon.
Approached after the meeting, Minister Stokes said that while he understood public concern, NSW Government investment at nearby Currawong Beach demonstrated how heritage and improved public access to community assets could be well managed.
“As Rory [Amon] said, the NSW Government has spent $3.3m on the track and the heritage restorations, which has all been consistent with the existing Plan of Management. We’ve also included the lighthouse on the State Heritage Register, which is the highest level of protection that the state is able to provide.
“We’re looking to update the Plan of Management to narrow the range of uses that the site can be used for, and it’s got to be done in accordance with the highest level of heritage protections,” said Minister Stokes.
“While there’s a lot of agreement, the area there is disagreement is a proposal that the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, that is divided into two apartments, could potentially be used for short stay accommodation.
“That would be managed by NPWS, which they do at Montague Island Lighthouse at Narooma. There are other lighthouses that are managed by third parties in National Parks, but that’s not the proposal here, NPWS would manage it themselves.
“There’s no suggestion the ranger would be moved on. There was some early talk the cottage down the bottom could be used. Absolutely not, the ranger will stay at Barrenjoey. There is also no suggestion that the main Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage would be used for any accommodation purposes.
“The NSW Government has put upwards of $5m into Barrenjoey Headland. There’s no way we’d ever make that back, but that wasn’t the point of putting the money into it. We recognise that hundreds of thousands of people use it every year. The benefits are really to local businesses, it puts Palm Beach on the map for the local hotels, cafés, restaurants and retailers,” said Minister Stokes.
PB&WBA President Professor Richard West AM (image above) said that while the concessions were welcome and a positive step, all options for accommodation should be taken off the table entirely.
The public meeting resolved unanimously that the Minister for Environment and Heritage James Griffin should amend the Draft Plan of Management, should delete any reference to short stay accommodation and not approve any leases to third parties.
An online petition has been started by PB&WBA member Gordon Lang, seeking to have references to accommodation removed from the Draft Plan of Management.
Images: Northern Beaches Advocate