A proposal to transfer the management of Mount Keira Summit Park away from Wollongong council and into state hands has angered lord mayor Gordon Bradbery, who says the prized peak belongs to the people of his city.
“This is an asset that belongs to the City of Wollongong and it’s too important to the city to be taken out of our hands,” he said.
The proposal, which would move the summit park under the administration of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NWPS), has come from the National Parks Association (NPA).
The conservation lobby group’s State Council is meeting at Mount Keira Scout Camp this weekend, when it will also set its sights on Killalea State Park, in Shellharbour.
The summit park is managed by Wollongong council, as part of the botanic gardens, and is surrounded by privately-owned and NWPS managed land on Mount Keira.
Killalea is currently classed as a State Park, and falls under the responsibility of NSW Lands, but again the association believes it should be run by the national parks service.
NPA Illawarra branch president Graham Burgess said the association believed NPWS was the most qualified organisation to care for these areas.
Read more: Council reveals Mt Keira Summit Park vision
“The current shared responsibility between the NPWS and council at Mount Keira and elsewhere along the Illawarra escarpment is hampering both conservation of the native plants and animals and the development of outdoor recreation, especially walking tracks and facilities, which have huge tourist potential,” he said.
“The summit park is an island, in effect, that is surrounded by the Illawarra escarpment conservation area, and we believe national parks are the experts at conservation.”
But Cr Bradbery said handing the summit park over to the NSW Government would be detrimental, and worried the scenic area would become neglected and more underfunded if it was under state management.
He pointed out that NPWS had been put under “great stress” in recent years, due to funding cuts through government efficiencies.
“Wollongong council is quite able to manage that site, and we, along with the Rotary Club of Wollongong, have put in a lot of work up there,” he said.
“I think that Mount Keira in total should be under our management, because, in recent times, it’s not been Wollongong City Council that has been responsible for causing any delays.”
He said the NPA had not raised its proposal with the council.
Mr Burgess said the group would begin lobbying for the new management after this weekend’s meeting.
In recent years, many parties have set their sights on the summit park, with tourism operators hoping to turn it into an adventure playground and mountain bike groups lobbying to progress the development of legal cycling trails.
Last year, Destination Wollongong engaged a mountain bike trail designer – Dirt Art – to explore Mount Keira’s potential and Wollongong council called for tenders to look at new ways to boost visitors to the park.
In 2016, the council developed vision for the summit park, which aims to turn the mountain into a vibrant recreation and tourism hub" for the Illawarra.
Work on a draft master plan for the area is underway.