A grand vision for a multi-purpose 250-hectare mountain bike park on the edge of Cessnock is one step closer to reality.
Cessnock Council unanimously supported the project, known as The Precinct, at last Wednesday’s meeting and resolved to lodge a funding application under the state government’s Regional Communities Development Fund by the October 12 deadline.
The Officer in Charge of Cessnock Police Chief Inspector Dave Robinson, one of the driving forces behind the project, said he was encouraged by council’s support.
“The support of council has been very strong,” Mr Robinson said.
“The unanimous vote demonstrates that council is very supportive and that the application will be forthcoming prior to the October 12 deadline.”
Mr Robinson said that the site of the proposed Precinct, which is bordered by Maitland Road to the north and Duffie Drive to the west, had previously been a hot-spot for illegal activity and dumping.
“In March of this year, Police became aware of illegal structures on Crown Land just on the edge of Cessnock,” Mr Robinson said.
“There were a number of criminals utilising these structures and they were conducting night-time raids into Cessnock, stealing items and retreating to those illegal structures.”
“Police mounted Operation EcoCleanse in collaboration with Crown Lands and, over a series of days, they removed all of those structures, abandoned vehicles and equipment and rubbish dumped on the land then repatriated the land back to what it should be”.
Mr Robinson added that after the successful operation, police entered dialogue with the Department of Crown Lands about how to prevent further illegal dumping and arson offences being committed in the area.
“The idea comes out of police recognition that we need to develop alternatives for the at-risk youth in the Cessnock area and we think that this is going to be a really good facility for everybody in Cessnock,” he said.
“The Precinct will provide some healthy lifestyle alternatives and something to aspire to.”
Mr Robinson added that the Precinct would be much more that just a mountain bike park.
“It will be a multi-purpose public space,” he said. “Local schools could use the Precinct for things like cross-country running, orienteering and ecological studies. The creation of this facility also has the potential to link up cycleways all the way from Newcastle to the vineyards. This can form part of a state significant network that encourages cycle tourism health and activity tourism.”
He added that the project could also prove beneficial to local native flora and fauna.
“One of the aspects that really excites me is the wildlife park aspect of the Precinct,” Mr Robinson said.
“What that means is fencing will be designed and implemented in collaboration with conservation groups that will allow the removal of all feral animals and invasive weeds and flora and we will encourage native bush regeneration groups making sure the bush is pristine”.
“This will form a sanctuary inside the Precinct where all feral predators have been excluded and it becomes a large safe haven for threatened native species.”
Mr Robinson added that other ideas that have been floated in the planning stages include a free bike library onsite for kids in challenged circumstances and a new BMX facility for Cessnock.
However, he added that ongoing consultation was needed with the Mindaribba Local Aboriginal Land Council in the Precinct’s planning stages.
“It has to be acknowledged that ongoing collaboration with the Mindaribba Land Council is critical to ensure the best outcome,” Mr Robinson said.
“The Land Council is enthusiastic about the idea but a lot more consultation has to go on in relation to the Precinct.
“We are very mindful of the need for that to occur. In our planning stages we are looking at developing something that will offer a lot of benefit and recognition to the land council
Cessnock Mayor Bob Pynsent said the proposal had far-reaching positive implications for Cessnock.
“This project is a prime example of turning a negative situation into something really positive for our community and everyone involved should be very proud,” he said.
Council will submit a funding application by Friday 12 October for the amount of $4 million.