“This is the time to fight”: North Sydney Councillors divided over new Harbour Bridge cycle ramp.
By ANNA USHER
A fiery meeting at North Sydney Council on Tuesday night has resulted in a vote to support controversial plans for a cycle ramp onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
After two hours of heated debate, Councillors decided by majority to provide the NSW Government with access to Bradfield Park on Alfred St, in exchange for $2.5 million to spend on local infrastructure.
The access will allow for construction of the new cycleway to go ahead.
Councillor Jilly Gibson said council should reject the offer as the chosen ramp design would endanger pedestrians, saying residents had been asked to “sacrifice everything for the sake of the cyclists”.
“I’m just feeling like this council is wussy,” she said. “It’s not a fait accompli – let’s not be wussy.”
The new cycleway is a contentious local issue, with many worried it will compromise the heritage of the Harbour Bridge.
But cyclists, who are currently made to dismount and then walk their bikes up 55 stairs to travel south, want an easier route.
On Monday, North Sydney Council received a letter from Transport for NSW requesting they give permission for the state government to access part of Bradfield Park to allow for construction of the cycleway.
In return, council would receive $2.5 million – $1 million more than a previous offer – to fund upgrades to Bradfield Park – if the council gave its consent before the end of February.
“Otherwise, Transport for NSW would be forced to compulsorily acquire the land and the cycleway would be assessed by the Department of Planning and Environment through the lengthier “state significant infrastructure” approvals process, and the government would keep the $2.5 million,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Councillor Ian Mutton told the extraordinary meeting that the transport agency’s actions were “totally unacceptable”.
“That one level of government will turn to another level of government and say, if you don’t comply with our request within 24 hours, we’re going to take $2.5 million away from you, is outrageous behaviour,” he said.
Councillor James Spenceley argued the cycleway wasn’t a foregone conclusion and that the election could give the council the opportunity to negotiate the project with a different government.
“This is not the time to give up – this is the time to fight,” he said.
In addressing the council meeting, Transport for NSW’s deputy secretary of Cities and Active Transport, Kiersten Fishburn, said: “I know this probably seems like a rush job, but actually the request for landowner’s consent has been out there for a significant amount of time.”
Mayor Zoe Baker had to repeatedly call the public gallery to order and request attendees “show some respect” after they chortled and shouted “absolute rubbish” at some of Fishburn’s remarks.
Baker said the council had advocated for better access to the bridge for cyclists, even if it disagreed with the government about its design. She said granting consent was “just one step” in the project.
“It is an absolute furphy to suggest that we have some sort of leverage over Transport for NSW and that whatever happens at the state election will change this project immutably. It will not,” Baker said.
The majority of councillors voted to support the council accepting the government’s offer and grant access to the site.
The cycleway proposal is expected to be determined in May.