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Ministerial Complaints

Rob's picture

By Rob - Posted on 22 October 2008

I wrote a basically unchanged version of the below letter earlier this year but didn't post it then. Along came the task force on National Parks and a few other initiatives.

However, the conversation today has prompted me to fish it out and send it off. I also sent a copy to the minister for sport & rec and asked that they help influence the provision of cycling facilities.

In writing, I tried to stick to the facts below and offer workable solutions. You note the first thing proposed is more funding for NPWS as I know they are terribly overworked. Unfortunately I'm sure there will be some people who don't like what is said, but hopefully they are in the minority.

The Hon. Carmel Tebbutt, BEc MP
Minister for Climate Change and the Environment
Governor Macquarie Tower
Level 30, 1 Farrer Place
NSW 2000

22 October 2008

Dear Ms Tebbutt,

I write to you regarding disturbing events in National Parks in the Northern Sydney region, actioned by NSW NPWS who I believe are under your portfolio.

Please accept my advance apology for the length of this letter, but I believe these are serious matters and require appropriate attention. I would very much appreciate your time to understand, investigate and respond regarding this matter.

Although born in the UK, I have lived in Sydney and it's Northern Suburbs for around seven years. I love the Australian environment and culture and recently underlined this by becoming a citizen. I have always been an 'outdoors' person, enjoying cycling, walking, scuba diving, surfing, skiing, etc, etc, and felt very much at home in here in Australia.

My current primary sport is mountain bike riding. I first became serious about this around 2003 whilst overseas, and you can imagine my delight when returning to Sydney in 2004 I discovered the wealth of trails available to the rider here. Some time later I received medical advice to retire from playing squash (it's high impact nature was exacerbating a hip problem I have) so this is when mountain bike riding became my main sport.

Since then I have met many wonderful local people with which to ride and enjoyed many, many days of exercise and fun on the trails around Sydney and occasionally further afield.

However, earlier this year this situation changed very much for the worse. In early 2008 NPWS rangers have taken what seems a distinct dislike to mountain bike riding in National Parks. This is a complex problem, so let me elaborate:

When I first started riding in Sydney I just followed the crowd. I didn't really know where I was, signs in the areas I was riding in then were non-existent, but it was all great fun and the countryside was wonderful. I wondered how on earth other people who weren't as fortunate as I to meet locals who knew the trails would cope, and to this end started a web site with some friends. This site, "Northern Beaches MTB" ( has since grown into a tight knit community and I believe has helped many people find the wonderful recreation areas I was so lucky to be introduced to, and also helped people find riding partners - a very important safety issue as one shouldn't really ride alone in some of this terrain.

Over the years we have seen an explosion in the popularity of this web site and also the sport in general. I don't know if you are aware, but for several years now bicycles have outsold cars in Australia. The Cycling Promotion Fund states a record 1.47 million bicycles sold in 2007 and that cycling has become the 4th most popular physical activity with more than 1.6 million Australian adults cycling in 2006, an increase of 17% from 2001. Retail Cycle Traders Australia statistics show that 1998-2005 70% of all bike sales were mountain bikes, and 60% of all bike sales were for adult bikes, so as you can see, we are not talking about children only or road riders - the majority of recreational users are off road riders and they need trails to ride on.

Our website has well over 1,000 members and a daily readership (as estimated from server logs) again of over 1,000 visitors. Yet this reflects but a small proportion of riders in NSW. APC Magazines for example estimates readership of their 'Australian Mountain Bike' magazine to be about 70,000. The real active base of riders would be very hard to measure as the majority of riders neither belong to any club or organisation nor subscribe to magazines or use websites.

Why all this is relevant to yourself is this; since earlier this year local rangers in the NPWS seem to have been performing a sweeping ban on mountain bike riding on numerous trails that the community has been enjoying unfettered access to for many years (read, ten years plus). Due to my involvement with the aforementioned community site I was invited to talk with NPWS rangers about this. They advised that riding all areas of 'single trail' (the bike rider's favourite type of track) in National Parks was illegal. They pointed out this has always been the case as per Plan of Management documents. I was asked to alter the content of our community website to advise riders to steer clear of these areas. I have done this in order to comply with the legal aspect of their request but find this disturbing on many levels:

1. Why has this happened now? NPWS rangers must have known about these trails for many years. Even if it takes a parks ranger one or two years to discover these 'illegal' trails after they are built this means for several years NPWS management and rangers have known about riders and done nothing to prevent access to the trails they now wish to close. I believe NPWS knowing about these trails and yet not acting in any way to prevent or discourage access sets a precedent of lawful access and acceptance on their part.

2. Many of the trails NPWS want to exclude mountain bike riders from are marked on topographical maps as walking routes. Walkers are to enjoy access while mountain bike riders are not. This is despite the fact that many studies exist that conclude mountain bike riding has the same, or often less impact on these types of trail then walkers. This is deliberate discrimination against the cycling community for no factual reason.

3. In order to attempt to justify their decisions NPWS rangers pulled out a plan of management (POM) for one of the parks involved - Garigal National Park. This POM is 10 years old (it is dated November 1998) and is so outdated in both age and thinking as to be unacceptable to use. The document pays only lip service to the sport of 'bicycle riding' (yes, the term 'Mountain bike' or MTB wasn't even in circulation at that time!).

4. As well as the outdated POM, NPWS rangers use the excuse that certain trails are in too close proximity to Aboriginal Rock Art to use. Why I consider this an 'excuse' is that the majority of riders are very respectful to art. In fact in one area riders have placed rock piles around such markings to protect them because no official protection exists. If NPWS were really interested in preserving rock art they would properly mark and fence it, even fencing of the most rudimentary level (an outline of logs or rocks) would be acceptable and yet most art does not enjoy this protection.

5. There is no consistency at all in NPWS action here. Certain parks (Kosciusko NP, Blue Mountains NP) do have official legal single track access. However, in Kosciusko NP itself there is discrepancy. One can cycle from Charlotte Pass to very nearly the peak of Mt Kosciusko, but cannot travel to the summit and are asked to leave their cycles at the bottom of the summit trail. I was here over the 2007/2008 summer break and there were no facilities to secure one's bike at that time, despite some new toilet facilities clearly having been recently constructed. National Parks claim to want to leave the countryside in pristine conditions and yet there are massive metal and wood walkways in this area for walkers only. These would make fine riding routes but for some reason cycling is not allowed here. Cycling is allowed on single trails in and around Thredbo though - where is the consistency? Turning our attention back to the Sydney region though, why have some parks allowed single track use and some not? In a nutshell, NPWS management of single track riding is an issue and their disjointed approach is a shambles and incredibly frustrating for all users of the parks.

6. Mountain bike riding is a clean and green sport. As I already mention, numerous studies show that riders have the same or lesser impact on trails and ecosystems they are within than bush-walking does. Riding is great exercise and more appealing to the young than walking. Anything that encourages activity at any age, but very importantly young people in this age of every more sedentary lifestyles must be a good thing, and yet NPWS seem dead set on closing down the trails that appeal most to riders.

7. The parks we have seen most problems with in the Sydney area are those most easily reached by young city dwellers, in the most environmentally friendly manner (ie, without driving). There are other areas of the fabled single trail but most of these lay outside the urban area. Places such as Ourimbah, Wingello and Lisdale State Forests have very good trails but are a long drive out of town - how is forcing riders to drive such distances to gain maximum enjoyment from their sport helping anyone but oil companies? Mentioning State Forests prompts one to mention that organisation seem more than happy to have riders visit their lands and enjoy them. Many State Forests work with local clubs and organisations to build and maintain trails - why is it NPWS can see the sense in community involvement in the upkeep of what is essentially community land?

These then are the problems that are faced. In order to remedy them I have a few simple suggestions that I would ask you consider as matter of urgency:

1. In order to progress these issues it would seem a lot of time and effort is required to put things right. I can empathise with National Parks as they have to deal with many user groups over wide urban and rural areas with very few resources. Please help alleviate the resource problem and give NPWS the funding, equipment and manpower they need to care for parks and users of these parks.

2. From speaking to rangers it would seem there are legal reasons parks POM documents must be followed. But what is the point of this when these documents are so out of date and practically ignore the second most popular (if not primary user in many parks around Sydney) user group of bike riders? Please direct your management and rangers to immediately update POM documents. I don't mean to start a review, or plan a review, please have them update these documents now! Clearly some parks above have riding on single track allowed so changes to all plans of management using their model surely cannot be a hard or lengthy exercise.

3. When rangers still feel riding is inappropriate instead of simply closing trails why can they not assess the situation and act to rectify the issues with those trails? I mean if erosion has become a problem then perform maintenance of the trail in a sustainable way to overcome this. When they feel Aboriginal Art is under threat then fence the art and re-route a trail. There are many, many volunteers that are willing to help in any of this work. This has been demonstrated with great success on programs in the Royal National Park for example. Manly Warringah council runs a small 10Km circuit at Manly Dam. This contains small sections of the only piece of legal single track on Sydney's North Shore from what I know but handles many hundreds of riders due to a pro-active approach from council rangers that sees volunteer workers help repair the track as required. This is a brilliant measure, why cannot NPWS rangers be so organised?

I'm sure if you can encourage these measures many issues in NSW NPWS would be resolved very quickly, and I ask you to please make action of this kind a priority.

Thank you for your time and ask that you please respond in writing to the address above with how you intend to tackle the issues above, and look forward to the answer perhaps being by implementing the points I suggest or a variation on that theme.

Yours Sincerely,

Robin Rainton

ar_junkie's picture

Luv your work mate!


valierm's picture


lozza6's picture

Well written mate!

I just hope they read it and aren't put off by the length Sad

LadyToast's picture

Not only well written but a decent summary of the current state of things, I for one am itching to volunteer my track building services (well, I can wheel a barrow and swing a pick), also I don't think it too long. Nice one.

Rob's picture

No response from this yet, so have just sent an email follow up Sad

Rob's picture

Yesterday I received a letter from the office of the Minister for Sport & Recreation. It's dated Dec 2 and says as the matter is under the administration of Carmel Tebbutt (Minister for Environment and Climate Change) they have passed it on to them.

So much for thinking that the Minister for Sport & Recreation might actually want to pursue this as it has a large affect on where we can practice our sport.

ar_junkie's picture

Enviro issues will always come first... better press coverage...

evan's picture

Nicely written and some great points, well done Rob.

Rob's picture

I've just had a call from the minister's office. Apparently they will be replying shortly. This should be interesting?

Rob's picture

I have here a reply from the DECC, and enclose it below.

A potted reply after four months wait is an insult to say the least. I wonder if Mr Solomon really expects me to accept his reply? I mean, given the fact that I explained much about my interest and involvement in National Parks, for him to refer me to documents I have explained to him are out of date is laughable. I also find it sadly amusing that he quotes facts on trail distances in Northern Sydney, when I have personally mapped every one!

So, I shall be writing back to the minister explaining why I feel insulted and asking her to answer the original points I raise. I might call Mr Solomon tomorrow for comedic value but am not sure it's worth the effort.

Dear Mr Rainton

I refer to your letter of 24 October 2008 to the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, the Hon Carmel Tebbutt MP, concerning opportunities for mount bike riding within the State's national parks reserve system. The Minister has referred your letter to the Department and I apologies for the delay in replying.

The Department of the Environment and Climate Change (DECC) aims to provide and promote a wide range of recreational opportunities in national parks including mountain biking. Cycling is permitted along the entire public road network within NSW parks, along various multi-purpose trails and on many management tracks.

Cycling is however restricted on formed roads or tracks, where it may damage fragile environments or where it can cause conflict with other park visitors, such as on single walking tracks.

There are more than 100 kilometres of trails within national parks in the northern Sydney area alone that are available for use by mountain bike riders. Details about where it is permissible to undertake different activities in national parks are generally available in the Plan of Management for each reserve. These plans and a range of further details are available on the Department's web site (

The NSW Government's Taskforce on Tourism and National Parks recently examined new opportunities of sustainable tourism in NSW parks and reserves, including mountain bike riding. The report can be views on the Department's web site at The Department is currently considering how it can enhance opportunities of nature-based experiences in the light of the recommendations.

Thank you for your interest in this matter.

Yours sincerely

Carl Solomon (19/2/09)
A/Directory Tourism and Partnerships
Parks and Wildlife Group

PO Box 1967, Hurstville NSW 2220
43 Bridge St, Hurstville NSW
Tel: (02) 9585 6444 Fax: (02) 9585 6555

Little-Ditty's picture

I would go easy one the rhetoric, you never know who reads it Rob, and you want to ensure you get a proper response, not insult the person so you get nothing. Smiling

Rob's picture

Well - no offence to Mr Solomon if he's reading this. I actually haven't said anything aside from I'm offended by his reply. Wouldn't anyone be?

That said, after thinking more about this lets see what can be gained from this situation. At least I got a reply, and although it answered none of my questions it does mention the Tourism Taskforce. Let's take that as an opportunity - think instead of complaining I'll write back and show some sympathy (let's face it - public servants have a hard job pleasing everyone) and offer to help with the Taskforce. I mean, they want to get visitor numbers in parks up, and we know how to achieve that (get more legal and sustainable riding trails).

Stuart M's picture

I have to agree with Liam. It would be a real shame Rob if the hard work we are all putting in fighting for better trail access was ruined because the public face of Nobmob was seen to be saying, doing or even wearing things that the elected officials we want to win over might find morally offensive.

I do sympathise with you, the nerve of the guy referring to the only Government documents he may have and the audacity of him quoting your figures in some way to imply that 100km of trail is enough for the more than 1.4 million bikes sold last year. That said, we don't want to upset him now do we?

I know there is probably no need to add this, its just I didn't see any mention of it in your initial contact, but did you let them know you intended to publish their replies? It would be incredibly poor form to publish a privately addressed letter with out first advising the writer, almost as bad as blind copying poeple onto replies to privately addressed emails.

If you haven't, then maybe the socially acceptable thing to do would be to remove this thread until you have sought their OK, or maybe just move the whole thing into the censored section, cause they won't see it there.

Let there be light

Rob's picture

Ah - there you go. Spoke to Mr Solomon yesterday and had (what I feel was) a useful conversation.

So something good may come out of this in the months to come, but that's about all there is to say for now.

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