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Fred Caterson Reserve Redevelopment Fury

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Residents and environmentalists have slammed a Hills Shire Council Masterplan to redevelop Fred Caterson Reserve at Castle Hill to make room for a high-performance rugby facility for the Eastwood District Rugby Union Football Club.

In November 2020, Hills Council adopted The Fred Caterson Reserve Masterplan, which showed that 23,710 square metres of vegetation would be bulldozed to accommodate the rugby precinct.

Save Fred Caterson Reserve, made up of a group of concerned residents and environmentalists, said Council’s plan would see the total loss of bushland of 52,821 square metres (13 acres), including the removal of hundreds of trees.

The group said not only would trees and habitat be demolished, but that the integrity and character of the reserve and surroundings would be compromised, turning it into a noisy, traffic congested, polluted area.

The reserve is the last big area of bushland in the Castle Hill area and home to an incredible diversity of threatened species of animals (some at risk of extinction like the Glossy Black Cockatoo, Powerful Owl and Platypus) and plants.

From left Castle Hill Greens candidate Tina Kordrostami, and residents Andrew Tonkin, Marian Tonkin and Jennifer Farrah

The reserve is also home to several local community sporting groups. Residents surrounding Fred Caterson Reserve say they were not consulted adequately, going so far to say they were unaware of the Masterplan until recently.

“Residents are angry that the reserve will be stripped of so much flora vital for people’s mental health and the vulnerable species, and they are angry at the prospect of light and noise pollution affecting their quiet enjoyment of where they live and the congestion that will result,” resident Andrew Tonkin said.

The Hills Council Website states a “series of community consultation sessions were undertaken with Council, local residents and stakeholders of the Fred Caterson Reserve. The engagement process resulted in clear findings and direction in relation to the overall project objectives and opportunities”.

Council said the Fred Caterson Reserve site was linked to habitat corridors that were environmentally significant indigenous habitat for both flora and fauna, including five key ecological communities in the Sydney Sandstone Ridgetop Woodland Forest, Sandstone Transition Forest, Sydney Sandstone Gully Forest, Sydney Turpentine Iron Bark Forest, and the Shale Transition Forest.

Council said its Masterplan would “cater for existing and future residents, with the reserve being in close proximity to the State Government’s Showground Precinct, which will grow by another 11,000 people in the next 10-15 years and then ultimately, by more than 20,000 people once the precinct is fully developed”.

The Draft Masterplan was reported to Council in July 2020 and placed on public exhibition from 12 August to 11 September 2020 for viewing and comment.

Community groups and residents said Council “conveniently” exhibited the Draft Masterplan during Covid restrictions in 2020 and that only “sporting clubs were consulted during the preparation of the Plan”.

Council said it “received and considered multiple community submissions as part of that process”. Along with the public exhibition, Council invited Expressions of Interests in August 2020 for the establishment, management and maintenance of a premier rugby union facility. It then entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Eastwood Rugby to progress it a premier facility.

Council said “partnering with another stakeholder allows embellishment of the facility to a higher standard for the community than what would otherwise be possible through the funds obtained via the Contributions Plan”.

The facility will be developed on the former Pony Club site and will include three playing fields (including synthetic fields) and associated infrastructure, including lighting, drainage, irrigation, amenities building/s and a car park.

Council said planning and design were currently in progress but not yet final, with “concept plans being worked through based on progressive site studies, including site survey, geotechnical assessment, ecology, traffic, noise and heritage studies. The facility will be designed in accordance with relevant environmental standards”.

The development also encompasses additional sports fields, car parking, paved areas for events, spectator seating and a clubhouse. There would also be upgrades to the existing sporting facilities on the reserve, which includes soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball and BMX bike riding.

Residents are concerned that a premier rugby facility would attract thousands of spectators to an area that is already wracked with traffic and parking congestion.

Hills Council Greens Councillor Dr Mila Kasby told the Galston, Glenorie & Hills Community News she held grave concerns and was “absolutely concerned about tree loss and the loss of habitat (including hollows which take decades to form) given the important nature of this reserve and its unique place as a reservoir of biodiversity within our urban landscape”.

Clr Kasby also made the point that more than half of the current Hills Councillors were not on Council when the Masterplan was adopted in 2020.

“At a minimum, I would expect that any development proposal would go out on public exhibition for at least two months, and that all the details, including the MOU with Eastwood Rugby Club, would be publicly available so that our community is fully informed and have enough time to have their say on this incredibly important site.”

Hills Shire Council said it was awaiting the results of an independent ecologist which would “further inform the implementation of the adopted masterplan”.

“This is to ensure that ecological communities are appropriately managed, relevant environmental legislation is met, and opportunities are provided for bushland regeneration and tree replanting. Council looks forward to updating the community as our planning progresses,” a Council spokesperson said.

“Council’s adopted masterplan aims to preserve and minimise the impact on local flora within Fred Caterson Reserve, while providing more sporting fields and upgrading facilities to cater to the increasing active and passive recreational needs of the growing Hills Shire population,” the spokesperson said.

The Friends of Caterson Reserve has set up a petition against the redevelopment, which has gathered more than 3,500 signatures. See https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-destruction-of-fred-catersonreserve-castle-hill

Visit savefredcatersonreserve.org for more information. Council’s Masterplan can be found at https://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Council/Council-Initiatives/Fred-Caterson-Reserve-Master-Plan.

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