Letter to the editor | Trail a white elephant

The release of the SGS Economic and Planning’s Economic Assessment draft report on the Goulburn to Crookwell rail trail should be of interest to your readers.

It has the potential to be a dangerous white elephant and should be dropped in favour of other community assets offered by the NSW government through its regional recreational package.

While SGS, the expert engaged by both Goulburn Mulwaree and Upper Lachlan councils, is careful to qualify its findings, its assumptions and conclusions seem to have been made without first-hand knowledge of the area.

The extreme climate and windy nature of the Crookwell district make it unfriendly to cyclists. Even in favourable climatic conditions, none but the most hardy will venture on a 14-hour round trip from Sydney. 

The estimated 30,000 visitors a year is totally implausible, especially given that in the last two years the number of cyclists in urban and regional NSW has fallen sharply. Only 25 per cent of people who ride a bicycle for up to five hours a week are women.

Using more realistic assumptions, SGS’s sensitivity analysis shows the benefit/cost ratio to be marginal. It also ignores the rail trail’s negative impacts.

Yet the proposed cycleway could cause enormous economic harm to farmers. Many paddocks will become uneconomic. Bio security will almost certainly be compromised by the cyclists, hikers, horse riders, campers and, possibly, dirt bikers who travel through the heart of productive farming land. 

The spread of foot and mouth disease in Britain demonstrates what can happen when people roam freely along defined trails.

The Crookwell district enjoys a proud record of sound farming practices. Potato growers have a protected status. It is Johne’s Bovine Disease free. New regulations require the logging of all on-farm visitors. The indiscriminate passage of tourists across land which must also cater for stock crossings means this can’t happen. Once the area has a reputation for disease, the economic impact will last for years.

Add to this, the spread of noxious weeds, limitations to aerial crop spraying, significantly increased fire danger, and greater security and personal safety risks.

Significant acreage through which the proposed trail traverses was originally gifted to the NSW Government Railways by the then owners to be used as a rail corridor. Some of this land belongs to the same families and to now convert its uses, which may have potentially catastrophic consequences, is morally unthinkable.

Spending $20 million on a declining pastime, with related long-tail dangers, might indulge cycling elites, but for the majority it is a risk that shouldn’t be taken.

Maurice L Newman AC, chairman, Melon Pastoral Pty Limited, Roslyn