One of the the things that I liked about moving to the leafy Hills District of Sydney’s north western suburbs was its history and its environment. Known as “Sydney’s garden shire”, the Hills Shire Council’s website proudly proclaims its focus on “lifestyle” and “heritage”. Reading the details, it seems like a wonderful community in which to live. The surrounding area was the site of the colonial government’s third farm, established in 1801. You can picnic in what’s left of the Government Farm not far from where I live – it’s a small chance to engage with colonial history in our local area. There is, however, very little in the way of colonial buildings or structures in this area – it was predominantly farmland and orchard, so was easily converted for suburban development.
So when we moved into a house bordering 14 acres of undeveloped bushland, I was excited. This land contained remnants of the original native bushland (and habitat) – and provided a welcome relief from the suburban development that has seen Castle Hill and its environs transformed from orchards and farmlands into its current state in a matter of decades. It also provides an important source of shade and a place for the passing breeze to be cooled on its way through the valley.
For miles around, you can see the towering gum trees behind our house. They are home to a number of threatened species – bats, cockatoos and small marsupials. It is a sanctuary for native animals and attracts bird life from miles around. I’ll admit I feel a little spoilt.
But over the last couple of years, this local reserve has dwindled in size. Development had been approved on the vacant 14 acres and was going ahead. Even though our property bordered this area, the Hills Shire Council had not bothered to inform us of the development. They had published it on their website, and I guess, considered they had done their duty to inform the community. Luckily our next door neighbour had noticed – just in time – and pulled together a group to protest. I felt like the council had pulled a swifty – but perhaps it was just a lack of communication. A lack of community consultation …
An environmental impact statement showed that the endangered species needed to be protected, and accordingly a small section of the land was set aside. It has remained under management protection since then – fenced off by a six foot high fence and not accessible at all. It’s a very small, isolated block of forest. Recently a development proposal was submitted that seeks to incorporate this remnant forest into a single block of land – with construction permitted at the far end of the block. This time, thankfully, we did receive a letter from the council asking for our input.
But while looking into the proposal, we stumbled across another proposal by council. They have a plan to replace the current six foot high wire fence with a steel, colorbond version. So rather than being able to glimpse the forest through the fence, we’ll be confronted by a wall of steel. It will substantially increase the reflected light and heat in the immediate area and it will prevent ground based wildlife (such as frogs) from seeking refuge from the scorching summer sun. Again, we were not informed of Council’s intention. Was this an oversight? Was it on purpose? Again, we feel like council has pulled a swifty. Almost. We have until tomorrow to respond, which we intend to do.
But for an institution which claims to support lifestyle and heritage and aims to attract new residents and new businesses to the area – the Hills Shire Council is severely lacking in adequately communicating its intentions to local residents. It’s one thing to publish information – it’s quite another to communicate and engage a community. While I hope that council does not proceed with the fence, I also hope that they find a more adequate method of communicating with local residents.
Note: on the Google map above you will be able to spot the vacant 14 acres. However, a large proportion of that land has now been consumed by new development.