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Residents in northern Sydney fear hundreds of trees will be cut down for an elite sporting facility that they say will ruin a nature reserve.
The Hills Shire Council plans to build a “premier rugby union precinct” at Fred Caterson Reserve in Castle Hill as part of an upgrade of sporting facilities.
Residents fear hundreds of trees will be bulldozed in Fred Caterson Reserve in Castle Hill to upgrade sports facilities and build new rugby fields.Credit:Wolter Peeters
The precinct will be the new home for Shute Shield rugby club Eastwood and include sports fields, car parking, a paved area for pop-up tents and events, spectator seating and a clubhouse on a site formerly used by a pony club.
The council’s masterplan also seeks to upgrade existing sports facilities in the 58-hectare reserve, increase parking and “develop an exciting arrival experience”.
Fred Caterson Reserve is one of the council’s largest and busiest public open spaces and is close to the Showground Station Precinct, where up to 5000 new homes are planned.
It houses facilities for soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, BMX bike riding as well as equestrian and walking trails in bushland.
Fred Caterson Reserve in Castle Hill is one of The Hills Shire’s largest and busiest public open spaces.Credit:Wolter Peeters
The Hills Shire Mayor Peter Gangemi said the plan balanced the need to build more sports and recreation facilities to cater for population growth, while “maintaining the ecology in the reserve”.
Gangemi said the council was still undertaking environmental investigations, but the rugby new precinct will lead to the loss of 23,710 square metres of vegetation under the plan.
Bushland elsewhere in the reserve will also be bulldozed, but the plan also proposes the planting of 300 urban trees, bushland restoration and 8710 square metres of native revegetation.
The council has been criticised for ignoring non-sporting users of the reserve and proposing overdevelopment that threatened valuable bushland.
The Hills Greens councillor Mila Kasby said the plan had been adopted before more than half the current councillors were elected and it was not a commitment to build the rugby union precinct.
“I am absolutely concerned about tree loss and the loss of habitat given the important nature of this reserve,” she said.
Kasby said the old pony club could probably be used for rugby with minimal impact, but “the issue is how much extra space should be developed”.
“Do we need 24-hour access and really bright lighting in such an ecologically sensitive area?” she said.
Property developers have ignited community anger across Sydney over plans to bulldoze thousands of trees for new housing and road projects.
The Parramatta-Hills chapter of the Australian Plants Society said in a submission to the council that critically endangered forests were threatened under the plan.
“Proposed clearing will completely change the character of the vegetation,” its submission said. “Clearing will change bushland to a grassed playing field.”
The chapter’s secretary Jennifer Farrer said the council’s plans were an overdevelopment of the site for a first grade rugby club rather than community sports.
“This appears to be happening without any ecological assessment of the site or consultation with local residents who will be impacted by traffic and other adverse effects such as evening training sessions under lights,” she said.
Castle Hill resident Andrew Tonkin said the new rugby complex was “over the top” and would create night-time noise and bright lighting and traffic chaos affecting thousands of residents.
“I think rugby is a great sport but what is being planned is over the top and not appropriate for the area,” he said.
Eastwood Rugby Club general manager Robert Frost said “massive demographic changes” had prompted the club to move to The Hills District, which was closer to the club’s player, supporter and community base.
“The Hills Shire Council is building and paying for the complex, we are adding certain specific items – eg players’ gym, upgrade to fields, etc.,” he said.
However, the club’s plans rely on the rezoning of its old home ground in Marsfield to allow a residential development, which is opposed by the City of Ryde and Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello as “totally unacceptable to the community”.
In contrast, Castle Hill Liberal MP Ray Williams said he supported improved sporting and recreational facilities, “which benefit our growing community”.
The removal of any trees was a matter for the council, he said. “It is hoped any tree removal will be offset with a substantial replanting of appropriate native species within the reserve where practical.”
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