Sydney Harbour National Park Draft Amendment to Plan of Management: Public Consultation

National Parks and Wildlife Service sought public comments on the draft plan of management amendment for Sydney Harbour National Park.

The Sydney Harbour National Park Plan of Management Draft Amendment: Sustainable Visitor Use (Clark Island, Shark Island, Rodd Island and Fort Denison) was available for review and comment until 10 January 2021. Opportunities to comment are now closed. Public exhibition of the proposed plan amendment provided an important opportunity for members of the community to have a say in the management of Sydney Harbour National Park.

The proposed amendments should be read in conjunction with the current Sydney Harbour National Park Plan of Management and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Event Management Guidelines.

The Sydney Harbour National Park Plan of Management describes how the National Parks and Wildlife Service will conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the park while providing unique and enriching experiences for visitors to Sydney Harbour. Though small, this national park contains an extraordinary diversity of natural and cultural heritage, as well as some of Sydney's most valued sites for outdoor recreation and special events and celebrations.

What is a plan of management?

Parks and reserves established under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) need to have a plan of management. The plan includes information on important park values and provides directions for future management. The plan of management is a legal document, and after the plan is adopted all operations and activities in the park must be in line with the plan. From time to time we amend plans of management to support changes to park management.

Why is the plan being amended?

The amendments are being made to allow National Parks and Wildlife Service to deliver on the key goal of the 2012 plan of management to increase opportunities for the public to enjoy the park and enrich the visitor experience through the revitalisation of the Sydney Harbour Islands. The amendments will also ensure that the plan better reflects the way that National Parks and Wildlife Service manages and assesses sustainability of visitor use in the park.

The draft amendment proposed changes to:

  • management arrangements for events and visitor numbers on Clark Island, Shark Island, Rodd Island and Fort Denison
  • leasing arrangements for Fort Denison
  • options for construction of facilities to support sustainable visitor use and park operations on Fort Denison.

When will the plan of management be finalised?

At the end of the public exhibition period, the National Parks and Wildlife Service will comprehensively review all submissions, prepare a submissions report and make any necessary changes to the draft plan of management amendment. The Greater Sydney Regional Advisory Committee and the National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council will then review the plan amendment along with the submissions and report, as required by the NPW Act.

Once their input has been considered and any further changes made to the plan of management amendment, we provide the plan amendment to the Minister for the Environment. The plan of management amendment is finalised when the Minister formally adopts the plan amendment under the NPW Act. Once a plan is adopted it is published on the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website.

How can I get more information about the draft amendments?

For further information on the plan of management amendment, please contact the NPWS Park Management Planning Team at npws.parkplanning@environment.nsw.gov.au

Why are we being consulted about this issue?

Fairfax walk, Sydney Harbour National Park

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has drafted an amendment to the plan of management for Sydney Harbour National Park.

We sought comments from the community and stakeholders to inform the finalisation of these proposed changes to park management. We want to work with the community and other land managers to find the best possible outcome for the natural environment, park visitors and neighbours.

What changes are proposed?

We proposed an amendment to the plan to enable improved event management through applying an environmental and sustainability assessment process to determine visitor limits on the harbour islands. These processes are outlined in the NPWS Events Management Guidelines.

The proposed amendment will clarify the areas available for lease on Fort Denison and permit the development of facilities that meet operational needs and support sustainable visitor and tourist use. The heritage, environmental and sustainability assessment will determine the type and location of facilities allowed.

Why are these changes being proposed for managing events and visitor numbers?

The harbour islands are popular locations for visitor events. The plan of management for Sydney Harbour National Park promotes use of the islands for a range of organised group activities and events. These events are managed to ensure the values of the islands are protected while allowing visitors to participate in enriching experiences.

Currently, the plan of management specifies maximum visitor numbers on the harbour islands as follows:

  • Shark Island – 800 at any one time
  • Clark Island – 250 at any one time
  • Fort Denison – 200 at any one time, and 20 persons in the Martello Tower
  • Rodd Island – 250 at any one time.

These numbers were established to manage the impacts of visitor events and, in the case of the Martello Tower on Fort Denison, visitor safety requirements. While these figures can be a useful guide to the capacity of the islands, NPWS developed comprehensive processes to better determine limits and ensure park values continue to be protected. These processes provide a more flexible approach in delivering a wider range of opportunities for rewarding and enriching visitor experiences on the harbour islands.

Why are changes being proposed for Fort Denison?

The current plan of management specifically mentions the area available for lease on Fort Denison as the forecourt and barracks and describes the type of facilities that may be constructed on Fort Denison as storage facilities for a restaurant or similar. This reflects the lease arrangements in place at the time the plan was adopted.

A key goal in the plan of management is to revitalise visitor destinations in the park and provide enriching and memorable experiences. Precinct planning and detailed design processes have identified that facilities, such as kitchens and wet areas, are better accommodated in areas of lower heritage significance. The proposed amendment provides opportunities to formally lease all areas of the island and allows for the construction of improved purpose-built facilities to support operations and sustainable visitor use on Fort Denison. Leasing arrangements and development of facilities will continue to be subject to stringent heritage, environmental and sustainability assessments required by legislation and guided by NPWS Property Leasing Guidelines.

How will National Parks and Wildlife Service decide maximum visitor numbers on the islands?

Visitor number limits will be determined by environmental impact assessments, application of Australian industry standards, best practice for crowd densities, consideration of the nature of events, transport limitations, emergency evacuation requirements and any other relevant factors. The environmental and sustainability assessment process for events will be guided by the NPWS Event Management Guidelines.

How does National Parks and Wildlife Service manage visitor events on the islands?

Environmental impact and sustainability assessments are completed for all events proposed for the harbour islands. These processes comply with the licensing requirements of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and are guided by the NPWS Event Management Guidelines.

Is impact assessment required for all visitor events on the islands?

If an event is identified as an 'activity' under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 an impact assessment under Part 5 of that Act is required before any approval can be granted. Generally, events that require this type of assessment include larger events, exclusive use events and events requiring additional temporary infrastructure or other on-ground works. Group activities involving 40 or more people still require a permit or consent from NPWS.

What does an impact assessment consider?

Environmental assessment processes consider potential impacts and identify measures to control these impacts, including but not limited to the following factors:

  • noise
  • operating times
  • numbers of people
  • number and frequency of events
  • visual impacts
  • form and scale of temporary structures
  • impacts on plants and animals, particularly any threatened species
  • impact on Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage
  • illumination and glare from lights and electronic screens/displays
  • use of pyrotechnics (fireworks)
  • access and transport
  • evacuation and visitor safety issues.

We also require explicit consideration of sustainable use of resources and limiting broader environmental impacts such as waste generation.

How will the values of the park be protected during an event?

Any approval for an event will be subject to conditions to ensure the protection of the park's natural and cultural values, and the amenity of other park users and surrounding communities. These include specific conditions for waste, noise, safety, weight limits, vehicle movements and security requirements.

What type of events has National Parks and Wildlife Service permitted on the islands?

A wide range of events have been managed without incident or impact to values to the harbour islands. This includes large events such as the New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney Harbour National Park, weddings, birthday parties and cultural events.

Is the removal of visitor number limits a response to increase National Parks and Wildlife Service revenue?

No. We seek to maximise opportunities for people to enjoy rewarding and enriching experiences in our national parks where it is safe to do so. We will manage the number of visitors on the harbour islands based on the type and impact of the event.

How will visitor safety be managed during events?

Number limits will continue to apply to the islands to ensure operation within environmental and safety standards. Event managers must identify all safety risks in the event planning and prepare and implement safety procedures.

How will National Parks and Wildlife Service manage event noise impacts to surrounding residents?

We recognise that noise impacts are an important issue for local residents. Independent studies have identified controls to limit the impacts of noise during events. Application of these controls ensures that the impacts of noise remain within acceptable limits.

Existing noise level controls have worked well and NPWS continues to monitor and review the controls to ensure that they meet community expectations.

How will National Parks and Wildlife Service maintain access to harbour islands during exclusive use events?

The granting of approvals for exclusive use events on the islands will not change under the proposed plan amendment. While this will exclude other members of the public from landing on one of the islands, such approvals are staggered. This means in most circumstances when one island is being occupied for an approved exclusive use event there will be other choices available for small groups or individuals to enjoy the harbour islands. Exceptions to this include the annual Sydney Harbour New Year celebrations.

Are there limits on how many days these sites can be hired?

Yes. Event frequency is a consideration when assessing the sustainability of events under the NPWS Event Management Guidelines. Each event is considered on its merits, with a focus on maximising the opportunity for visitors to experience the harbour islands, including opportunities for quiet enjoyment, and ensuring that the values of the islands are maintained.

How will the values of Fort Denison be protected under a lease?

The current plan of management provides for the adaptive reuse and lease of Fort Denison and Rodd Island for purposes that support visitor and tourist use and enjoyment. The proposed amendment will clarify the area over which leases may be granted on Fort Denison and enables the construction of improved purpose-built facilities to protect the sites exceptional heritage significance. The environmental and heritage values of these islands remain protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Heritage Act 1977.

Approval for the development of specific infrastructure and facilities will be determined after stringent environmental, heritage and sustainability assessment processes. Any development of infrastructure and facilities must comply with the Fort Denison Conservation Management Plan.

Does the public have access to Fort Denison?

Fort Denison is currently closed to the public while conservation and construction works are underway. Once completed, these works will increase opportunities for the public to enjoy and experience this iconic heritage site. Fort Denison Dining Pty Ltd have an agreement for lease with NPWS to operate a café restaurant, functions and interpretive tours on the island.

Fort Denison with Sydney Opera House in the background