Council's draft Delivery Program 2022-26 and Operational Plan 2022 -23 sets a low bar for cycling
Blue Mountains Cycling Safety Forum Inc. Submission to Council on Draft Delivery Program and Operational Plan (extract/ edited)
There are some positive things happening in the Council for cycling including progress towards opening the Glenbrook Tunnel and including it as part of the Eastern Escarpment. The Draft Delivery Plan (which looks forward to 2026) and Operational Plan does not capture these things which in our view is a missed opportunity. These documents matter because they make clear Council's priorities over the forward years.
Overall, the Delivery Program and Operational Plan does not articulate a clear ambition for active transport. It does not adequately note or capitalise on either the growth of cycling or its strategic importance in diversifying tourism and growing the local economy. The Blue Mountains Cycling Safety Forum has discussed with Council opportunities for cycling, including, active transport, town connectivity and diversified tourism but the documents do not capture or reflect this good thinking.
Council is in receipt of $4m in funding for the remediation of Glenbrook Tunnel yet the operational plan makes no mention of this deliverable, and the delivery plan fails to show how the tunnel will be operationalised, for example, as part of an active transport network and incorporated into the Scenic Eastern Escarpment Master Plan.
We are disappointed the Delivery Plan and Operational Plan fails to demonstrate how Council will deliver upon its commitments with respect to:
Opening the Glenbrook Rail Tunnel and completing a lower mountains active transport and rail heritage network
Developing a cycling and walking network across the Mountains connecting town centres and schools with defined stages over ten years; and,
Identifying and setting aside suitable open space with relevant plans of management for off road trails to cater for all levels and abilities of mountain biking.
The Blue Mountains Cycling Safety Forum would like to see a financial pathway to underpin planning for improving cycling safety, interconnected active transport routes and initiatives to support both on and off-road cycling activity and tourism across the Blue Mountains. The prioritisation of projects should be co-designed with the Mayoral Cycling committee. Such projects will become revenue positive for the local economy over a 5-year period through increased cycling tourism.
We firmly believe that Council is missing a huge opportunity in cycle tourism and the economic stimulus it brings. Councils further from Sydney are choosing to capitalise on this opportunity with far less natural infrastructure than exists across the Blue Mountains.
The cycling community, including the many off-road groups, are eager to engage with Council to plan and develop cycling infrastructure. Without a clear delivery and operational plan for cycling, Council’s ability to build trust with the cycling community will be diminished.
Detailed response to Draft Delivery Program and Operational Plan
Move – Objective 5
The only relevant activities listed under the various Objectives seem focused on shared paths. There is no mention of making local roads safer for on-road cyclists or mountain biking. An integrated and considered delivery plan would have identified these and set out a pathway for delivering the infrastructure to support these activities.
We note that the Blue Mountains Bike Plan 2020 is referenced as a supporting document, but it is not evident how the outcomes of the now out-of-date plan have been integrated into the draft delivery program. We further note that the 2020/21 baseline performance result for cycleways is rated at Low by the community (2.78 out of 5) with an annual target stated in the document to maintain or increase. Without explicit programs we assume it is Council’s intention to maintain this low baseline throughout the life of this delivery program out to 2026.
Thrive – Objective 6
There is room to recognise cycling being a key component of driving tourism diversity or contributing to the expansion of the local economy. This is an interesting contrast to many local government areas around Australia who have proven the benefit of attracting high net worth cyclists through provision of great cycling facilities and experiences. On 19 May the free to air network program “Travel Guides” highlighted a cycling experience in the lower mountains based around the Oaks single trail and Mt Portal and identified a local tourism provider. Why aren’t cycling experiences and the infrastructure to support them a key part of the objective?
For the years 2021/22 and 2022/23 income and expenses are essentially static leaving little room for new activity. Importantly, employee costs are forecast to be 60% of income (excluding grants) which when coupled with recurrent materials and contracts consumes most Council’s income. Council is dependent government grants to deliver new initiatives which is far from sustainable as claimed in the financial plan. It is further challenging to see how Council has any hope of delivering against this Delivery Program other than recurrent commitments without a revenue plan (including an intention to leverage grant opportunities).
The four-year capital works program shows a significant decline in expenditure from a proposed circa $37 million in 2022/23 to around $17 million at the end of the period which further highlight Council’s constraints in delivering its Program. At a detailed level capital allocation for the ‘Move’ objective reduces from $18 million in 2022/23, $12.6 million of which is allocated to projects in the 2022/23 Operational plan, to $9 million at the end of the period, all of which is allocated to recurrent road maintenance, stormwater, footpaths, bridge renewal et al. Clearly there is significant doubt, on the face of the document, that Council can deliver its program.
2022-23 Operational Plan
We have reviewed the plan and cannot see a sufficiently strong connection or commitment to implementing Council’s previously adopted Bike Plan 2020. Instead, Council is only committed to reviewing Pedestrian Access Mobility Plan (PAMP) and Bike Plan 20202 and potentially constructing new footpaths in accordance with the existing PAMP. There is no disclosure on how the footpaths will be prioritised across the LGA. While we support improvements in pedestrian access mobility it is insufficient to just review a bike plan which has been in existence for around 4 years with approximately 90% or more of its actions undelivered.
Council’s operational plan for its ‘Thrive’ objective seeks to maintain status quo in relation to tourism with a focus on local amenity. There is no ambition in the plan to grow and diversify tourism over the next year.
Economic Opportunities are Missed
In the meantime, other LGAs in NSW are moving fast to catch up with other States and Territories (including Victoria) by investing in building mountain bike trails, active transport networks and rail trails. New Zealand just gets better and better with Central Otago’s Lake Dunstan trail being the latest bonaza attracting more than 84,000 cyclists to the area in its first year of operation. The Australian Cycling Economy 2021 Report found that cycling added $1.93 billion (equivalent to $235 per capita) in direct economic output to the economy, 18,744 jobs with $347.4M attributed to cycling tourism in NSW. Local and state governments are investing in cycling infrastructure to improve liveability and economic growth.
The economic benefits are significant. A 2018 cost benefit analysis commissioned by Colac Otway Shire Council for Forest Mountain trail development found that an investment of $1M resulted in:
Construction output of $2.4M and employment benefit of 6.5 Full Time Employees (FTE)
Operational level economic benefit of 32 FTE, 49,000 visits per annum, additional 92 rooms nights and a tourism output of $8.4M annually.
Cycling options in places other than the Blue Mountains will increase their share of the cycling tourism market and are likely to also to grow.