• Tony Bosworth

Victim of its own success – Bilpin tourism impact grows - petition calls on Council to take action

Bilpin’s popularity as a getaway destination has soared over the last decade as ever increasing numbers of people visit the region, but it’s happening without a clear plan or controls from Hawkesbury Council, says a resident who has started a petition asking for urgent action.

“Developments are being approved without notifying residents, without sufficient traffic data and assessment, and without considering the impact on residents and the 'character' of Bilpin that we all love," says well known Bilpin resident Matilda Julian who set up the online petition.

“Over the last decade, Bilpin has seen an exponential increase in visitors, and traffic that is transforming our town, yet Hawkesbury City Council continues to assess development proposals in isolation, and not in the context of how it may impact the 'character' of Bilpin, and the larger impact it may have on parking and traffic,” says Ms Julian.

“I live down a normally quiet street in Bilpin. Directly opposite us is a Pick Your Own operator that transforms our street and the intersection of Kurts Rd and Bells Line of Road into a traffic hazard for both residents and visitors on weekends in 'apple season',” she says.

When the Pick-Your-Own operator applied to develop the site to include a cafe, residence, and large shed - and to operate the business seven days a week - Ms Julian – who is a solicitor by training - started to look at the development controls and found they lacked, well, control.

“I started doing some research into the planning policies currently used by Hawkesbury City Council, and nothing refers to 'Pick Your Own' operations, which means that as the largest generator of traffic in our area they are the most unregulated enterprise. It means that they are not subject to considerations of parking, noise, traffic, and amenities,” she told the Post.

When the Pick-Your-Own operator applied to vastly increase their business footprint, “only four residences were notified by council as per their Planning Policy (Development Control Plan 2012), and there was no traffic report requested for the development assessment,” says Ms Julian.

“The 'Acoustic' report referred only to noise generated from the cafe and shed. There was no reference to 'Pick Your Own' being the primary activity of the site.”

“We want Hawkesbury City Council to listen to Bilpin residents and get the right 'balance' between tourism and maintaining what is special about Bilpin to live in, and visit,” she says.

“A balance between tourism, liveability, and preserving the special character of Bilpin. Let's all work together to make sure that we all 'Love Bilpin' for generations to come.”

Ms Julian says before any more development is given the go-ahead in the region, Hawkesbury Council should put effort into creating 'A Plan for Bilpin', based on community consultation, including tourist operators, and covering independent traffic data and assessment, and then to come up with shared values and goals for the future of the town, that can be used to assess all future development in Bilpin.

“This is not a radical idea,” says Ms Julian.

“Other councils have encountered similar challenges and consulted with the community and come up with plans to balance the needs of a community, to ensure that development goes hand in hand with preserving the special features of a place. Yarra Range Council in Victoria is a good example.”

By Monday over 100 people had signed the petition.

Ms Julian says many of the issues revolve around Hawkesbury Council’s current Development Control Plan (DCP) and Local Environment Plan (LEP).

“There are many shortfalls in the current planning policies that means that a Cellar Door for example, is described and assessed as a 'Roadside Stall' or 'Cafe'. Therefore such developments are not subject to appropriate reports and guidelines,” says Ms Julian.

Ms Julian is quick to point out she is not anti-tourism or against business in the area – but says there urgently needs to be a plan of overall development for the area.

“I grew up in Bilpin on an apple orchard,” she says.

“My family was reliant on passing trade for selling their fruit at their roadside stall. I can really empathise with growers and tourist operators, and understand their need to make a living in a changing world. My aim is not to polarise the tourism operators in our area, but to find common goals and vision - with Council facilitation - so that we can live and work together with confidence about how our town looks - and what protections it has - in the future.”

Hawkesbury Council’s DCP is currently being reviewed and Ms Julian believes councillors should go about that review in a different way.

Ms Julian at a recent Bilpin Market day

“They intend to consult the community after they have drafted the document. I am asking for them to work the other way around. I want them to consult the community, do the research, and on this basis create a plan. Then the plan can be adopted by Council.”

She says she is simply asking Hawkesbury Council to get it right and to consult with residents and businesses on a proper plan for the area.

See the petition demands below.

We asked Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett what she thought of Ms Julian’s initiative, and she said it was welcomed.

'I always encourage and support increased community engagement. Initiatives such as what Ms Julian have come up with are a valuable contribution in helping council in its planning,” said the Deputy Mayor.

“She has identified a perceived gap in the planning documents which are currently under review, and which she seeks on behalf of her community to have addressed. I think this sort of proactive engagement would be welcomed by everyone involved in ensuring our planning documentation is a true reflection of the needs of our community and inclusive of the various activities carried out in the Hawkesbury.”

You can see the petition here.

Petition demands:

1. Implement an independent study into the effects of tourism in Bilpin, including a separate traffic study, and community consultation. The study to in particular focuses on weekend activity between January to July.

2. Develop a plan for future development in Bilpin (based on this research), and include 'Bilpin' as a Specific Area in the DCP for assisting with determination of all relevant development applications.

3. That no tourist related development applications be approved until the above study and plan be conducted.

4. Amend the LEP to include 'Pick Your Own enterprise' as a 'Complying development' under RU2 Zoning needing consent from Council.

5. Amend the DCP to include 'Pick Your Own enterprises', and 'Tourist facility/ destinations', and any relevant considerations that result from such activities, such as car parking specifications, noise and physical barrier requirements.

6. Amend the 'Notification' section of the DCP, whereby, any development application of a 'Cafe', 'Pick Your Own enterprise', 'Cellar door', 'Roadside stall' or other tourist related facility or enterprise require newspaper notification.

Main picture courtesy of David Clare

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