Regional NSW tourism cut off by crown road sales

(From Brian and Naomi Kilby oppose the closure of a road running through a farm that gives their family access to the Barrington River. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

NSW Government’s public roads sell-off angers outdoor enthusiasts

By Nicole Hasham for the Sydney Morning Herald, 31st May 2015

If you can dodge the odd rock and handle moderate rapids, kayak guide Naomi Kilby says the stretch of Barrington River at Bindera is the perfect white-water adrenalin rush.

But outdoor enthusiasts say the public is being shut out of this and other popular nature spots as the NSW government sells thousands of Crown roads, denying access to bushwalkers, kayakers, fishers and other recreational users.

In less than three years, more than 5000 publicly owned roads have been sold to private landholders, pouring more than $43 million into the state’s coffers – a move the government says benefits farmers, generates revenue and cleans up the unwieldy Crown roads system.

However critics say the roads provide important routes to waterways, public reserves and other areas of Crown land – access that is being lost to the public forever.

“I’m pretty angry about it. It’s very unAustralian,” NSW Council of Freshwater Anglers president Don Barton said.

“Public rivers are being locked off by roads being closed as fast as they can … any pretext for closing them is seized upon.”

In August 2012, the government announced it would accelerate sales of Crown or “paper” roads, saying almost half of such roads exist only on a map, or are little more than tracks, and are usually located on private property.

The government aimed to offload 9600 roads by mid-2016 to clear a backlog of landholder applications.

It has since sold 5036 roads at an average $11,000 each; 685 applications were rejected.

Ms Kilby said kayakers and canoeists traditionally used a private road, with permission from the landholder, to access the Barrington River at Bindera, near Gloucester.

She said the landholder recently withdrew that permission and applied to buy a previously unknown Crown road that passed through his property and provided river access.

Ms Kilby said other access points to the river were unsafe or inconvenient for kayakers. Several objections to the road closure have been lodged.

“I was annoyed from a business point of view and a personal point of view … we were being left with unsafe options and I was concerned that someone was going to get hurt,” she said.

Mr Barton said paper roads were often fenced off despite being public property and the community was not aware they existed. This, coupled with insufficient time to raise objections, made fighting closures difficult, he said.

He cited several popular fishing spots in the state’s central west where access had been threatened, saying some roads were closed despite objections from the public.

Bushwalking NSW Tracks and Access officer Alex Allchin said bushwalkers often rely on paper roads to access national parks.

​”Any paper road that connects two areas of public land or river should automatically be considered an important public asset and any landholder who seeks to close one of these roads should bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that it has no public value,” he said.

A Department of Primary Industries spokeswoman said selling Crown roads can give landholders security of tenure and the ability to manage land in their property.

Money raised contributes to the state’s economic development and “it is appropriate to close and sell roads that are not required for access by the general public”, she said.