Residents oppose rifle range expansion

The NSW government has decided to pour $5.1 million into the expansion of a rifle range in the state's Southern Highlands, despite opposition from residents.

Planning minister Kristina Keneally has formally approved the proposal despite opposition from local residents and evidence of potential threat the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park adjoining the facility.

The Southern Highlands branch of the Labor party has passed a unanimous motion that condemns the decision and says property values will be affected.

Jodie Laing of the Hilltop Resident's Action Group (RAG) believes the government has failed to adequately consult the community about the upgrade of the site. She says the decision shows indifference to the ecological and social impact on Hilltop and the surrounding area.

"This development is going to impact on the safety of residents, create a large amount of noise and is equally potentially ecologically damaging because it is situated directly adjacent to a World Heritage-listed National Park", she said.

A February 9 media statement from RAG described the decision as writing a $5.1 million cheque to the Shooters Party, on which the ALP government relies in the NSW upper house.

An independent study submitted to the environment department by BBC Consulting Planners says the site's expansion and proposed use by the defence department are not sustainable. The study says the area poses a significant bush-fire risk with poor vehicular access and no utility services.

It would also require extensive clearance of intact bush land and increase the vulnerability of threatened fauna species such as the yellow bellied glider, broad-headed snake, koala and barking owl.

It says: "The site is located within Sydney's drinking water catchments. There is site contamination from the existing rifle range and clear mechanisms, protocols and responsibilities for ongoing remediation and contamination have not been met. The proposed method of cleaning up the polluted waterways and land can increase the damage to the natural environment."

There is an offset package in the government's proposal, including the addition of 1956 and 552 hectares to nearby Bargo State Conservation Area and Yengo National Park, respectively. However, it will represent no net addition to biodiversity or conservation as they are already Crown land and are capable of protection under the land management policies of the NSW government.

The study says: "The site has no utility services. There is no electricity, communications or water and the road access is completely inadequate. The required infrastructure is not funded and there is an expectation the local community would pay."

For more information on the campaign, visit <http://www.stophilltop.com>.