Also, out for community comment is the reworked masterplan for the North Head Sanctuary.
The North Head Sanctuary is the large area surrounded by Sydney Harbour National Park. Imagine North Head as a donut. The outside, or donut, is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. The inside of the donut, the hole, is the Former School of Artillery, now known as the North Head Sanctuary, managed and funded by the Federal Government’s Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (SHFT).
The Masterplan currently on exhibition covers only 21.1ha of the 73.8ha SHFT site. This 21h comprises the areas within North Head Sanctuary identified as having the most potential for future planned activities. The vegetation within this 21.1ha consists of remnant vegetation, historical landscaping, native and exotic garden beds, and open lawn areas and former military buildings.
The area covered by this masterplan approximates the central north/south spine, with the entry to the site along Scenic Drive just past the Parkhill archway and includes the former military barracks buildings, the orange Parade Ground and immediate surrounds, and the road to North Fort where the tunnel entries are located near the Defence of Sydney Monument and memorial walk. It also includes the carpark and café and easy access to the National Parks Fairfax lookouts through the heritage stone wall.
We have been waiting a long time for this.
The Harbour Trust Act took effect in September 2001. Then in 2007, the Coalition Government, with bipartisan support, passed the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Amendment Bill 2007 which extended the life of the Trust from 2011 to 2033.
On 18 June 2020, the Minister released The Review of the SHFT which made 21 recommendations including the need for additional funding from the Federal Government to continue with the rehabilitation of sites managed by the Trust, particularly Cockatoo Island and North Head Sanctuary. So here we are in 2023 with the SHFT in the process of completing masterplans for Middle Head, Cockatoo Island and North Head Sanctuary.
In the 2020–21 Budget, the Federal Government made $40.6 million available to the Harbour Trust to enable it to address critical repairs and maintenance over the next four years. This is in addition to the Government releasing $9 million which was being held in the Harbour Trust’s accounts following the sale of eight houses at Markham Close, Mosman.
The Trust also reviewed some of their own internal processes, such as their Leasing policy, which was arcane to say the least. Many in the community considered this to be a significant barrier to the success and viability of the various sites, particularly on North Head.
The masterplan currently on public exhibition suggests future uses of the rapidly deteriorating buildings. However, given that the SHFT has had nearly 20 years to maintain, revitalise and repurpose the buildings on North Head and this is the second attempt at the most recent masterplan, there is a degree of cynicism and consultation fatigue within the community.
The draft master plan for North Head Sanctuary seeks to ‘blur’ the boundary of land management between the SHFT and NPWS, seeing the headland as a singular entity and visitor experience. This would include, among other things, immersive storytelling through carefully curated signage, interpretive displays, and interactive elements. It would come as no surprise that the number one thing visitors comment on is the lack of appropriate signage leading into the area and once inside along the roads, pathways, tracks and trails. Hopefully this will be addressed early in the next 7 to 10 years.
Wayfinding and interpretive signs, making it clearer that the existing north/south road from the Barracks Precinct goes to the North Fort Precinct and the Fairfax walk would not go astray if adopted early on in the planned implementation. Vehicle movements are already limited and the existing road already accommodates walking and cycling which is a key objective of this draft master plan.
It is also worth noting that the SHFT has a Board of 9 members, however 5 positions, including the Chair, remain vacant. This will make decision making on significant expenditure, adoption of the masterplans and even the direction of the Trust challenging until the current Federal Minister for the Environment appoints new Board members.
Following the end of the public consultation on the North Head Sanctuary, the SHFT will review the feedback received and publish a Consultation Outcomes Report before finalising the master plan and submitting it to the Board members of the Trust to consider and approve. This is likely to take place in early 2024.
Once the master plan is approved by Board members, the SHFT will undertake detailed design work, including architecture, engineering, research, interpretation, program development and co-design with First Nations peoples. This will then go out to further public consultation ahead of any work being undertaken across the site.
And it is important to note that this draft masterplan outlines the long-term vision for North Head Sanctuary across the next 7 to 10 years, therefore work is not expected to begin or be completed in the immediate future and is subject to funding availability.