Woolgoolga residents angry as plans for ‘iconic’ Whale Trail become a ‘footpath’

Option 6C is not popular with Woolgoolga residents. Photo: City of Coffs Harbour.

WOOLGOOLGA residents are expressing their frustration with the City of Coffs Harbour, accusing Council of completely ignoring their wishes and the original terms of a Federal grant to build a Whale Trail.

Residents have been promoting the concept of a tourist trail, from which visitors could view migrating whales, for years, and were very optimistic when Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan, former Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight and councillor Tegan Swan announced a grant for $1.1 million in 2019.

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Ray Willing, President of the Northern Beaches Residents Association (NBRA), said the Woolgoolga Chamber of Commerce and the NBRA have since consulted with Mr Hogan’s office and the City of Coffs Harbour to facilitate the construction of a Whale Trail hoped to attract more tourists to the town.

They envisaged a path along the escarpment that could become an ‘iconic’ tourist attraction.

Mr Willing said while residents have never been happy with plans presented to them by City staff, previous proposals have been preferable to a plan labelled ‘Option 6C’, which staff recommended to councillors at the October 12 Council meeting.

The meeting notes read: “City of Coffs Harbour (City) staff are very cognisant of Council’s desire to deliver a project scope that meets the community’s expectations; however, this scope is aspirational beyond the grant agreement’s intent and therefore, a further contribution of funds is required from the City’s ratepayers.”

After the Mayor, Cr Paul Amos, used his casting vote to defeat an amendment to adopt a different option, Council voted, six votes to two, to adopt Option 6C.

The Council said the final concept design allows for 395m of concrete footpath (while the grant agreement requires at least 380m) and 126m elevated boardwalks (grant agreement requires at least 110m), at widths of 1.8m and 1.5m.

It said the design also includes car parking, kerbing, seating and lookouts as required by the associated grant
“I am pleased that we are now in a position to promptly deliver the missing Whale Trail link section,” Cr Amos said.

“The seating, raised decking, lookouts and footpath will combine with the widening of the Carrington Street and Pollack Esplanade corner to create a safe and supporting link to the headland walk.”

Andrew Beswick, the City’s Director City Infrastructure, said, “The adopted final concept design required extra funding, so Council also approved the reallocation of $132,112 from other new footpath budgets in the 2023/24 Operational Plan to complete the project.

“Works outside the grant agreement, such as the widening of the corner of Carrington Street and Pollack Esplanade, are being funded by the City’s ratepayers from the General Fund, with an amount of $325,000 included in the adopted 2023/24 Operational Plan.”

Mr Willing who, along with other Woolgoolga residents, attended the meeting, holds the view that the footpath should have been budgeted for from City funds, not the Whale Trail grant.

“We feel we have been deceived and misled,” he said.

“It’s not a Whale Trail, it is too narrow to be shared and safety of pedestrians and cyclists is a concern.”

Gurmesh Singh, the Member for Coffs Harbour and Shadow Minister for Tourism, Emergency Services and the North Coast, has been supporting Woolgoolga residents through the process.

“I’m absolutely gutted that Woolgoolga won’t be getting an iconic Whale Trail,” Mr Singh said.

“It’s outrageous that it has now been downgraded to a footpath – and the narrowest option available as well.

“Rightly so, residents are frustrated that it has taken so long to get such a disappointing design, and I encourage councillors to support any measures to revisit the design and give the community what they were promised – a Whale Trail.”

By Andrew VIVIAN

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