The Molonglo River Reserve protection makes the development of the Molonglo Valley future urban area difficult. Here is a summary of the Molonglo River Reserve Management Plan from the perspective of cycling.
- Cycling is permitted
- Recent cycling history
- Recreational cycling
- Only 3 high level bridges planned
- Difficult to build bridges
- Federal environment law and cycling in Canberra
The Molonglo River Reserve is a very long reserve that separates the north and south sections of the Molonglo Valley development.
On 16 September 2008, the ACT and Commonwealth Governments commenced a strategic assessment for development areas in Molonglo Valley under Part 10 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act). The long process resulted, eventually, in the Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019 (26 July 2019) and lies under the responsibility of the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate (EPSDD).
Molonglo Valley development will give the valley character but is problematic from an urban development perspective. The Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019 is a very long document and there is much to read and know about active travel.
Cycling is permitted
Cycling is permitted in the Molonglo River Reserve.
Table 8.2: Permitted recreation activities and their conditions, 91.
Cycling (including mountain bike riding) – Permitted on cycling, multi-use paths and management tracks only.Table 8.2: Permitted recreation activities and their conditions, 91. Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019
Recent cycling history
8.2.2 Recent recreational history in the area
In the rural section, recreation opportunities in the recent past have been managed through the 2001 Lower Molonglo River Corridor Management Plan. Recreation was deliberately kept low key in order to provide a contrast to parks in suburban Canberra. Access was only available on foot or bike and horse riding allowed only on the sewer management road on the north side. Apart from the management tracks there was little additional track building and very little interpretation provided. Walking access from Kama to the management track was added recently. Swimming in the river was not permitted, however fishing (within legal limits) and non-powered boating were permitted.
In the urban section, recreation access in the past was provided largely through forest management policies which, since 1967, had permitted use of forest management tracks for recreation. The pine plantations on both sides of the river and across to Mt Stromlo were widely used and enjoyed by walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders who came from suburbs across Canberra for the extended recreation opportunities (see Chapter 9). Stromlo Forest Park has been designed to partly substitute for these recreation opportunities that were lost, first in the fires, and then in the urban development of the valley. The Molonglo River corridor was part of the area formerly used for recreation and this has shaped the expectations of those users about its recreation use in the future.Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019, 94.
8.2.4 Recreation activities
A range of recreation activities for a range of users will be allowed within the reserve. These include but are not limited to:
1. Walking opportunities suited to a range of ages and physical abilities will be provided for in the reserve. Dog walking is a popular recreational activity in Canberra and this activity will be permitted in the reserve except for in Kama.
2. Picnic facilities for visitors to the reserve will generally be located in the special purposes reserves however other locations outside these areas may be considered where it can be demonstrated that there will be no detrimental impacts on the conservation values of the reserve.
3. Cycling opportunities from casual bike rides to long, challenging rides will be provided for on the existing management tracks. Commuter cyclists, who like fast paved surfaces and moderate grades will be provided for by trunk paths outside reserve boundaries.
4. Horse riding has a long history in the area. Horses will be permitted on certain tracks including the connections to the Arboretum, Stromlo Forest Park, the Yarralumla Equestrian Centre and the Bicentennial National Trail. There are several agistment centres and riding schools located in the region.
Linkages to longer trails for walking, cycling and horse riding are provided for within the reserve. The Canberra Centenary Trail (CCT), a 145 kilometre self-guided trail for walkers and cyclists that loops around Canberra passes through the reserve area. The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT), … also passes through the reserve and caters for equestrians, walkers and cyclists.Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019
8.4.2 Trail density, route design and recreation infrastructure
The long, narrow, sloping nature of the reserve means that there are few bridges over the river, so each side of the river corridor functions independently for local scale recreation. Longer routes that can loop the river will be created over time as new river crossings are added but there may be a demand for shorter looped walks within each side of the river corridor. In the urban section, the corridor on each side of the river is usually only between 200 and 400 metres wide, sloping, and with limited opportunities for finding good routes. … Continuous braided trails that separate different users are generally not feasible in these circumstances, nor desirable when close to each other for their impact on fragmenting both ecological processes and the naturalistic setting. Therefore route design is to take into account slope and the impact of ground disturbance, and, for similar reasons, recreation infrastructure beyond trail building in the nature reserve will be minimal.Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019, 94.
8.4.3 Separation of activities between nature reserve and special purpose reserve areas
Recreation in the nature reserve areas will be guided to low intensity uses and higher intensity uses provided for in the special purpose reserves. Higher intensity walkers, runners and bike riders will be guided to the special purpose reserves and other locations nearby, like Stromlo Forest Park and the Arboretum.
8.4.4 Separation of user groups and mix of trail types
Separation of users, or giving them track options, will be possible in some areas of the reserve through a combination of utilising the existing management tracks, the trunk path running along the urban edge and new purpose designed trails.
The characteristics of each type of route that will differentiate in part between users are:
1. The trunk path will be located outside the reserve boundary … (Ed. And therefore will not be part of the reserve or the responsibility of the EPSDD).
2. The existing management tracks, which are unsealed roads, can generally be used by walkers and equestrians. An activities declaration will detail which tracks equestrians are permitted to use. Existing arrangements for them to use the management tracks in the rural section of the reserve will remain. Equestrians will be able to cross the river at the existing crossing just below Scrivener Dam, Southwells Crossing and a crossing near where Deep Creek enters the river. A management track will be provided in the Kama buffer which will be able to be used by equestrians.
3. Where the land form is suitable, new trails will be developed within the reserve that are designed for walkers to access viewing points and the river.Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019, 94.
The construction, maintenance and access requirements that could impact on the ecological values of the reserve are also outlined in Table 9.1. Where these developments are not already addressed by the NES Plan or a decision made under the Planning and Development Act 2007, further approvals will be required that include the need for them to be considered against the requirements of the plan.
The importance of location and design of infrastructure proposals to the scenic values of the reserve and guidance for design that enhances and protects natural scenery is detailed in Chapter 5. Approval to construct such infrastructure is governed by ACT legislation, including the requirement for assessment and mitigation of environmental impact. As far as possible, structures are better located outside the reserve except where it can be clearly demonstrated that no feasible alternatives are available.Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019.
Only 3 high level bridges planned
Three (3) low level river crossings and three (3) high level bridges are expected. That is all. The low level crossing are Southwells Crossing, Clos Crossing and Coppins Crossing. The high level bridge crossing are Butters Bridge, John Gorton Drive bridge (2025), East West Arterial bridge (2030s).
Table 9.1 Infrastructure in the reserve – present and anticipated
A high level bridge (Butters Bridge)
Downstream of Coppins Crossing. Carries the sewer line above to the MVIS and also designed to serve as a pedestrian and cyclist crossing.
Bridge maintained by ACT Government and sewer maintained by Icon Water. Maintenance access required for the bridge (TCCS) and sewer (Icon Water). …
Infrastructure planned or likely to be required to complete the development of Molonglo
A bridge for John Gorton Drive.
Location over the Molonglo River in the Coppins Crossing area. This will be a significant construction project with potential impact on the reserve in the Coppins Crossing area. There will be ground and river disturbance during construction. Multiple services are likely to be carried with the bridge. Access below the bridge will be required for maintenance.
An East-West Arterial bridge.
Location in the Bulga Crossing area. This will be a significant construction project with potential impact on the reserve. There will be ground and river disturbance during construction. Multiple services are likely to be carried with the bridge. Access below the bridge will be required for maintenance.Table 9.1 Infrastructure in the reserve – present and anticipated. Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019, 101.
Low level river crossings (4)
These consist of a public road bridge (Coppins Crossing), a service bridge (Southwells Crossing), the MVIS bridge (Clos Crossing), and a ford used by walkers and horse riders near Equestrian Park.
Maintained by ACT Government and Icon Water (Clos Crossing). Road access is required for maintenance.Table 9.1 Infrastructure in the reserve – present and anticipated, page 100. Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019
Difficult to build bridges
It will be expensive to build bridges across the reserve as it requires environmental approvals.
Any development in the reserve that requires approval under the Planning and Development Act 2007 would be assessed against the requirements of the Territory Plan and other relevant legislation, including the Heritage Act 2004 and the Environmental Protection Act 1997. In addition, the NES Plan requires that a development within the urban section needs to have a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP).Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019.
More detail on the difficulties of building in the reserve.
9.2.1 Management considerations
The main issue during construction is the disturbance of vegetation and soil, not only of the footprint of the structure itself but of usually a much larger area to accommodate the workings of machinery and other temporary support functions like parking, offices, materials and equipment storage and soil stockpiles. Waterways may also be disturbed e.g. in bridge building. Potential impacts of these disturbances include erosion, sediment and contaminant movement away from the site and potentially into waterways, loss of soil structure, the introduction of weeds and alterations to the local hydrology. … Where the construction work involved removing the A1 or the A1 and some A2 layer, they must be removed separately and replaced in the original pattern.
Rehabilitation works after construction is completed are to maintain or improve on the vegetation and habitat that was there previously, in accordance with reserve objectives.
A major mitigating action is to avoid or minimise the amount of disturbance that needs to occur in the first place. … Similarly the reserve cannot be used for temporary storage of materials, site sheds or equipment or to facilitate earthworks and construction access for works within the urban area.
Disturbance to wildlife may be an issue in the reserve, especially where large construction works over long periods of time occur near or over the river. The riparian vegetation is an important corridor for birds and loss of cover over a distance may preclude smaller birds from using this route. This needs to be addressed in environmental approvals for the work.
Management tracks in the reserve need to be maintained at a good standard as they will become more heavily used with increasing management, recreational and infrastructure construction and maintenance demand. … Access will be required for ongoing maintenance of infrastructure and must be on existing management tracks only.Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019.
Federal environment law and cycling in Canberra
Urban planning in the ACT must comply with federal and territory environmental law. Futher, developments require approval that are consistent with the Territory Plan and National Capital Plan. Both ACT Planning and the National Capital Authority are involved.
The Molonglo Valley will be two developments on either side of the Molonglo River Reserve which is protected under both federal and territory environmental law. Sorting out the management of the Molonglo River Reserve took a decade and 15 years in total since the completion of the 2004 ACT Spatial Plan.
The Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) produced the 2011 Molonglo Valley Plan for the Protection of Matters of National Environmental Significance (NES Plan). Another 8 years, the ACT Environmental Act has been consider and many studies completed. The result was the Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019 (discussed above).
The Molonglo Valley will be two developments on either side of the Molonglo. Crossing the valley is difficult, not least for the cyclist. There will be few bridge crossings over the river and only recreational paths along the corridor. Butters Bridge, completed in 2016, was announced as a cycling bridge but now appears to be reserved for pedestrian access to the Namarag. John Gorton Drive bridge includes cycle paths and should be finished in 2025.