Bilpin

How much land clearing should people be able to do for fire safety? The Rural Boundary Clearing Code

At last night's Hawkesbury City Council meeting we considered a thorny question: How much should landowners be allowed to clear their land to protect themselves from bushfires?

There 's a lot to consider. In NSW there's already a mechanism for hazard reduction, called the 10-50 rule. But the government inquiry held after the terrible Gospers Mountain fire in 2019-2020 recommended that new rules be considered.
What came from that process is the 'Rural Boundary Clearing Code', and the on-line tool people are supposed to use to work out if they're eligible to clear under those rules.
Balancing community safety with protecting the environment is challenging. It takes leadership, and nuancing the various issues and views, not ramming something through because you want to make an election issue out of it.
I am glad that my alternative motion gained support and was seen as a better way forward.

Helping Bushland Regeneration in Bilpin

I was pleased to launch the Blue Mountains Shale Cap Forest Project at Bilpin today, as the Chairman of the Hawkesbury River County Council

The Shale forests stretching across Berambing, Bilpin and Mountain Lagoon are State listed endangered ecological communities, even more threatened in the aftermath of the fires. They are typified by an unusually rich diversity of plant, insect, and vertebrate species.

People forget that the Hawkesbury has more of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area within its boundaries than the Blue Mountains LGA.

My first paid job as a teenager was at Dutch's farm at Mountain Lagoon. I still remember being captivated by the size of the huge Angophoras fringing the property. It's satisfying to now lead an organisation working for their preservation.

This initiative is funded over a multiple years to identify and map the ecology, educate and incentivise landowners, provide on the ground help to assist in bush regeneration, conduct weed control, and track progress.

The project will aim to found a dedicated Bilpin Landcare group to carry the work forward, and the locals who attended today were curious and positive about it.

This grant (over $100K) is the first-time a private property engagement that focuses on conservation and land management has been done on this scale. Over 400 private properties have been contacted covering over 2,835 hectares in the Hawkesbury.

It's also great to see this is a team effort between Blue Mountains City CouncilHawkesbury River County CouncilHawkesbury City Council, the Hawkesbury Landcare NetworkGreater Sydney Local Land Services, and the NSW Environmental Trust.

If you want to get on board, contact HRCC.

 

 


Aggrieved Bilpin business owners and their signs (Photo: Geoff Jones, Hawkesbury Gazette)

Bilpin businesses need help from Council, not fines

Aggrieved Bilpin business owners and their signs (Photo: Geoff Jones, Hawkesbury Gazette)
Aggrieved Bilpin business owners and their signs (Photo: Geoff Jones, Hawkesbury Gazette)

Sean Prendergast, founder of Bilpin Cider, is on the phone with me, and he's livid.

"$6000! Council fined me $6000 for having a sign on a trailer outside my business!"

Bilpin Cider advertising trailer

My ancestors were orchardists for over a century, at Glenhaven, and so I'm immediately sympathetic.

What's worse, he tells me, is that in previous interactions with Council, he had formed the view that his current signage was compliant, after an earlier shot across the bow relating to "approach signage", meaning signage placed along Bells Line of Road to let drivers know about approaching businesses and giving them the opportunity to slow down.

As it happens, I had already been speaking to Wayne Tapping, of Wildwood Gardens, His situation is worse, as his venue and café is on Powells Rd, just off Bells Line. "Without signage on the corner to let people know where we are, our business drops by more than half" says Wayne.

And what did Council do with his A-frame signs? They impounded them at Wilberforce, and told him that if he picked them up before 5pm, they would waive the $213-per-sign fine.

Knowing this, the story that appeared in the Gazette two days ago, Orchardists Reel as signs prohibited -  rules cruel Bilpin orchards and food outlets, is entirely unsurprising, and something needs to be done about it.

The problem is that the rules governing signage in our city are too inflexible. No one wants ugly signage in our already built-up areas, and the rules are there for good reasons. That said, some strange things still slip through. The Windsor Holden building in Macquarie St Windsor is a monstrosity, but I shall move on...

But businesses in Bilpin need every support they can get from Council, not $6000 fines. Under the current rules, they aren't even permitted A-Frames (which require a form to be lodged and a $119 fee), because such signs are limited to business and industrial zones. The farm sheds most orchardists sell from are not considered business areas and are zoned "Rural". Even signs on their own properties can't be bigger than 0.75m², and higher than 2.5m above the ground. Good luck seeing that, barrelling along Bells Line at over 80km/h. Worse, our current LEP doesn't permit approach signage at all. I'm sympathetic to the argument that approach signage improves road safety by giving potential customers time to make a choice, slow down, and look for the business coming up. So it's clear that rules that work well in other places, are not working well in Bilpin.

Council's current response is to suggest that Bilpin business make better use of Social media. This is more than a little dismissive, and it isn't good enough. As the Gazette article points out, the number of orchardists in Bilpin has dropped from over eighty in the 1980s to ten today, and all of them rely on direct sales to some degree. The orchards in Bilpin are a key part of the agricultural, social and tourist fabric  of the Hawkesbury. We shouldn't let them die.

When asked by the Gazette, Council says that "If business operators request that Council look into a signage policy, then Council can look into developing a signage policy for businesses around Bilpin area to provide more guidance. Until such times the current policies remain in force."

I think we need to go beyond this. I want Council to take the initiative and develop a signage policy for Bilpin that balances the needs of those local businesses, draws the tourist trade, and yet is mindful of road safety and the aesthetic of our rural landscapes. Compliance to local ordinances and planning rules is important, but Bilpin businesspeople need our help. People like Neville Julian, and Shelley Julian, and Sam Ramaci, and Sean Prendergast, and Wayne Tapping, and many others would be entitled to think that, on current form, they aren't getting it.

I have reached out to my Councillor colleagues on this matter and so far I have received a very positive response. Stay tuned.