Local, Opinion/Comment

‘Roberts Hill Lookout is the least of our problems: we’ve got a Bypass and our fellow Community to think about’ – An open letter to Coffs councillors

The following letter has been sent to all CHCC Councillors by former Deputy Mayor Rod Mckelvey (pictured).

Much has been written about Roberts Hill and a proposed lookout (Coffs Harbour Advocate) recently.  I believe the proposal to be ill-conceived, wasteful and an unnecessary thought-bubble, when we already have wonderful facilities and far more spectacular views at Sealy Lookout.

It’s also important to remember Roberts Hill is owned by the Coffs Harbour City Council and paid for by our Environmental Levy, because of the important resident Koala population and habitat.

If the City is after a tourist drawcard, why not ensure we maintain a wild Koala population, a stone’s throw away from the CBD, safe from traffic, for locals and tourists alike to enjoy in perpetuity? Many recent scientific and media reports point to the fact that Koalas are under particular threat on the North Coast of NSW. For our city, maintaining a viable Koala population so close to town, in their natural environment, will be the tourism drawcard so many are looking for. Not to mention that an incredible amount of time and local, State and Federal money has gone into the rehabilitation of Roberts Hill to make sure Coffs Harbour’s resident Koala population remains viable for now and into the future.

 The proposed new interchange to be built at the northern end of the proposed Coffs Harbour Pacific Highway Bypass could easily be adapted to make sure it includes access to Bruxner Park Road, leading to Sealy Lookout. This would provide easy access to locals and visitors alike to experience what would have to be one of the most spectacular coastal panoramic vistas in Australia, the views over Coffs Harbour, the Solitary Islands Marine Park, and the coastline in both directions as far as the eye can see.

There are increasingly improved facilities at Sealy lookout, including a fledgling Aboriginal business. As part of the Pacific Highway upgrade, handled correctly the RMS could rebuild the road to Sealy Lookout.

In regards to the Bypass, it is vitally important that as a community we look hard at what is being planned to ensure that it does not detrimentally change the amenity of Coffs Harbour forever. After previously promising tunnels and a seamless vista from the mountains to the sea, it now looks like the tunnels have been eliminated because it’s being said that dangerous goods can’t go through tunnels.

However, the Connell-Wagner Dangerous Goods Study for the Coffs Bypass (see full report attached or the relevant extract follows) admittedly done 14 years ago, makes a case for the proposed tunnels in this instance, because each tunnel is relatively short …

The tunnels proposed for this project are considered to be relatively short, with each tunnel being less than 600 metres. The severity of a tunnel incident is dependent on a range of matters including the tunnel design, operational features and management practices. The likelihood of a serious incident (eg LPG explosion) in the subject tunnels ranges from about 1 in 2,000 years to about 1 in 7,200 years – the range essentially depending on the total tunnel length of an option.

 The overall risk ranking for the various options was determined with a matrix that integrates the likelihood and consequence data. For the existing land use situation, all of the Inner Bypass options have a Low overall risk rating. When future urban development is considered, the options with least risk are Inner Bypass options ISf / IN1 and ISI / |N2 with both having an overall Medium-Low risk rating.

An incident involving a dangerous goods vehicle within a tunnel has the potential for more severe impacts on road users than an incident on a surface road. This is due to confinement of road users within the tunnel and prevention or restriction of dissipation of fumes or smoke. In addition, there is also likely to be damage to the tunnel itself. Conversely, the confinement of impacts from a dangerous goods incident to the tunnel may reduce the impact on the surrounding environment.

 An initial quantitative assessment of fatality potential has indicated that the likelihood of a person experiencing a fatality in any of the tunnel sections is influenced primarily by the length of time spent in the tunnel and also by the length of the tunnel sections.”

and this … The Connell-Wagner Dangerous Goods Study for the Coffs Bypass also alerts us to the hideous visual nightmare that’s in-store for Coffs Harbour if we’re not vigilant.

“Short tunnels could potentially be used to eliminate the deep cuttings at the Gatelys Road ridge (70m) on Inner North 1 and at both the Shephards Hill ridge (55m) and Gateleys Road ridge (60m) on Inner North 2. It should also be noted that by providing tunnels it would be possible to lower the proposed grade line of the highway by up to 18m, thus providing better vertical alignment, reducing the quantity of embankment fill required in the adjacent area and making the highway less visible.”

Roberts Hill Lookout is the least of our problems: we’ve got a Bypass and our fellow Community to think about.

It’s worth noting that Dangerous goods Class 1 and 2:1 are estimated at only making up 7% of all heavy vehicles using the Pacific Highway. Meaning 93% or more of the heavy vehicles using the highway can use tunnels. Class 1 and 2:1 can go through the Chinderah tunnel because it’s not a long tunnels and it’s not sophisticated.

So my question is why not build the same kind of tunnels on the Coffs Bypass to avoid all of the unwelcome and unhealthy 24/7 community disruption we will endure if we don’t build this road so it doesn’t impose on Coffs Harbour. Is there another reason for not building tunnels?

More likely the RMS is cost-cutting because of their inability to access enough funds to build the Bypass Coffs deserves. The alternative will turn the new highway into a noisy, visual nightmare for hundreds if not thousands of Coffs Harbour residents.

 Is the future of West Coffs Harbour to be a Bypass, hacked into its natural amphitheatre? I for one don’t want us to be left with a visual eyesore, a noisy nightmare with deep, bare rock canyons, or Shot Crete canyons, blasted through the landscape, with concrete noise walls, which could be six to eight metres high, lining much of the rest of the Bypass route, erected in an effort to reduce noise. And there’ll be plenty when you add noisy, heavily laden B-Doubles lumbering up very steep inclines, to get to the cuttings, with every beat of their motors reverberating off the amphitheatre 24/7, to echo and impact on nearly every resident in West Coffs Harbour.

Will the resident’s current lifestyle and amenity in West Coffs Harbour be gone forever when they’re forced into a life indoors for some level of peace and quiet, made somewhat possible by the air-conditioning and double glazed windows the RMS will offer them?

How many houses will be affected? Is it 100, 200, 500, 700, or even a 1000 – does anyone know? Will Baringa Hospital or the nearby retirement villages also become casualties of the noise from the Bypass? Has anyone considered what the Bypass will do for property values in West Coffs Harbour? Maybe the residents should be made aware of this before it’s too late so they can put their houses on the market now!

I’ve spent the best part of the past decade consulting with the RMS about the Pacific Highway Upgrade, and if the Sapphire to Woolgoolga Upgrade is anything to go by, even when we thought there’d be a reasonable outcome, it wasn’t to be, because changes were made during construction that have left a horrible eyesore. An eyesore that could have been partially addressed with a sympathetic landscaping job, one that complemented the surrounding landscape, with species endemic to the area, rather than Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae), a native of South Africa for heaven’s sake? planted en masse at the Gaudrons Rd Interchange. A complete travesty given, we live amongst the some of the most biodiverse landscapes in Australia. But no, the RMS doesn’t care and are too cheap to do it properly – and, I guess they thought, ‘who cares, it’s only Coffs Harbour.’

 At some stage we need to see the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Coffs Bypass.

This is the time to ask what’s changed since the Connell-Wagner Dangerous Goods Study for the Coffs Bypass.

This is the time to ask questions and make sure you carefully look at the noise and visual impacts.

This is the time to ask questions about the need for three lanes, like there are at Bulahdelah, to ensure the slowest trucks stay out of the way on the steep climbs up to the cuttings, otherwise the RMS will leave us with significant traffic problems, and even potential traffic jams, on a brand new highway.

This is the time to ask questions and make sure you look for properly constructed vegetated fauna crossings like they built in Bongil Bongil to ensure our wildlife can cross the highway in safety. Without these crossings, they are forced to run the gauntlet of predator species like foxes, dogs and cats, waiting to ambush those using the box culvert drainage lines that the RMS now prefer, again because they’re cheap. The Connell-Wagner Report notes the significance of properly constructed fauna overpasses, in particular at Roberts Hill:

“As Roberts Hill Ridge provides a Regional Koala Movement Corridor, provision has been made for a vegetated fauna overpass on the Inner South 1 Option where it crosses the ridge.”

This is the time to make sure those fauna crossings won’t be removed like they were on the Sapphire to Woolgoolga Pacific Highway Upgrade,

This is the time to ask how Coffs Harbour City will find the money to maintain the existing Pacific Highway through Coffs Harbour if the new highway is not properly constructed for all future uses.

 Last but not least, this is the time to demand the RMS respect and consult our Aboriginal Elders about Heritage values, because this construction slashes a path through several culturally significant dreamtime trading/access routes between the Hinterland and the Coast.

This is a hugely significant issue for our community and there’s precious little detail being released, why? We need to be properly informed about the real impacts of the style of Bypass that appears to be coming, and the RMS should leave them plenty of time to consider our responses. Maybe a Council Newsletter could go out to all ratepayers and businesses so everyone understands the full impact of the Bypass. Has anyone in Council spoken to the Minister for Roads or our local member about just what the RMS is actually working on? The EIS contract was let in 2016, and it’s been hidden away far too long. The RMS must have some idea of what they’re actually planning. Have they completed the noise study? Have they considered property values, not only for the land they’re buying up, but for everyone within earshot?

We all want a good outcome for this city, something that will allow us to grow our city better into the future. We should be having a conversation about building the Bypass with tunnels, so our fellow residents in West Coffs can retain the majority of the lifestyle they’ve enjoyed since taking up residence there, and looks like they’re soon to lose.

I want to get the trucks out of Coffs Harbour as much as anyone, but if the tunnels cannot be built to the same standard as the Chinderah tunnel to allow all heavy vehicle’s to use the road, then for the sake of the West Coffs residents wellbeing, then the small percentage of Dangerous Goods on the Road may still have to go through Coffs Harbour as they do now.

That would also mean we the ratepayers, shouldn’t have to maintain the existing infrastructure through the centre of town, which will cause much headache for councils bottom line

Dare I say if the money is not made available to do this job properly, it may be better to delay its construction until the proper funding is available, because the alternative will be a worse nightmare than what we have now, a nightmare we will be stuck with for a very long time?

It is our city, the NSW Government and RMS shouldn’t be able to bully us into accepting a cheap alternative – an alternative that we’ll have to live with, and look at, and listen to for a long, long time. If not done properly, this Bypass that could be so bad, that some trucks may avoid using it anyway, and continue to use the existing highway with all its problems, rather than using the ill-conceived alternative.


Rod Mckelvey



  1. Archie Black

    Rod,you are absolutely correct with this letter to the Coffs Harbour City Council.
    While the Advocate seems to be playing cheer leader for the Roberts Hill Lookout Mob, they are neglecting the people of Coffs Harbour by not making a stand that there can be no option but to have a tunnel through the Roberts Hill ridge.
    Every point you raise must be explained to the public in a more open and transparent manner, before the first concrete is poured.
    In fact, with a NSW election due next March and the distinct possibility of a Federal election on the horizon even earlier, this issue should be raised as a major election issue for both the Coffs Harbour and Cowper seats.
    Potential candidates should take note !
    The local residents, not just West Coffs Harbour, but all who live here or pass through our city, deserve a Council and local members who will stand up to the arrogance of the RMS planners who will say, “No Way to a cutting through Roberts Hill” !!
    Because as we have seen elsewhere, if they stuff up, the results are there for all to see and future generations will be condemned with the problem of fixing it.

  2. Would it be too cynical to read ” After previously promising tunnels and a seamless vista from the mountains to the sea, it now looks like the tunnels have been eliminated because it’s being said that dangerous goods can’t go through tunnels” … as let’s do what we always do and give Coffs Harbour the short end of the stick and the cheapest options we can get away with? Especially when we take into account the existing tunnels between Brunswick Heads and Tweed and the Tunnel just before Byron Bay?

  3. Julie Williams

    It is ridiculous that Roberts Hill is supported by an environmental levy yet all and sundry want to expose it to environmental vandalism. It needs to be protected and the tunnel seen as the only serious option to enable this preservation.

  4. Connie Seward

    It is outrageous that environmental levy money is being considered for an outlook at Roberts Hill
    We have an amazing outlook at Sealy lookout. This only needs the access road uograded, something that has been needed for a long time.
    How can you spend environmental levy (ratepayers) money on destroying koala habitat and other flora and fauna species?
    40 years of discussions., consultations, planning and ratepayers money being spent and the by pass is still not started. We were consulted on tunnells, gradients acceptable to truck movements and other issues, and still no transparency and feedback as to why and what is feasible. Scientific and expert consultations seem to be ignored. Not doing it correctly and considering environmental ,social and economic issues as equally important is not an option.
    You can not replace
    what you have destroyed.
    Tunnells have proved successful on newly built sections of the pacific highway, a win win for all.
    Get it right now cost cutting always proves false ecconomy.

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