President’s Annual Report 2019-2020

ACT Equestrian Association Inc

Annual General Meeting

13 June 2020

President’s Report

This is my twelfth annual report to affiliates of the ACT Equestrian Association.

If I appear to be ignoring the current pandemic conditions in this report I assure you that is only because the contents of this report relate to the period between the 1st of April 2019 and the 31st of March this year, at which time the impact of Covid-19 was only becoming apparent much overshadowed by smoke fire and hail.

In 2019-20 ACTEA had 16 affiliates across the spread of disciplines from trail riding to dressage. ACTEA’s strength lies in the ACT Government’s perception that we represent a broad range of equestrians so I want to thank affiliates for their continued support and remind them that there is strength in numbers. When we make submissions to government on any issue it really matters that we can list the broad cross-section of the equestrian community that we represent. ACTEA provides local horse people with an opportunity to speak with one voice and we should not waste that power. Affiliation is incredibly cheap for what you get, as Sport & Recreation Services constantly remind us, so please encourage clubs that aren’t members to join up, participate and benefit.

ACTEA’s remit covers 2 broad areas – to act as an advocate for local equestrians in relation to protection, maintenance and enhancement of recreational facilities and to manage the infrastructure at Equestrian Park for the benefit of our community. I am going to report on the first of these. Derek Pether will report on the second as Convenor of the Equestrian Park Management Group.

Workload

The President’s monthly reports, which appear on our website for you to peruse at your leisure, are the best reflection of the broad range of issues and activities in which ACTEA is involved over the year. They cover everything from the never ending business of ensuring trails stay open, the hard work of negotiating new or replacement trails and, less exciting but important, involvement in departmental policy making that will have an impact on all equestrian infrastructure into the future. Generally a few big issues consume most of our time and energy each the year.

We have had an extremely busy year and, I think, a fairly successful one. Over the last 12 months, on your behalf, members of the ACTEA Committee attended 41 meetings and site visits with politicians, government representatives and contractors, an average of one every six week days. The Committee also made 59 representations and submissions, by telephone, email or in writing to government bodies or their consultants, including 3 formal submissions to a government public consultation processes – again, around one every six days. This workload continues to reflect the fact that the government and its contractors now frequently initiate contact with ACTEA on development and policy issues although there are still things we find out about in the Canberra Times.

The key issues in 2019-20 can be summarised as:

  • Trail protection and extension

  • Planning for the future of Belconnen Pony Club

  • Pressure on Government Horse Holding Paddocks

  • the 2020 bushfire season

When it comes to equestrian facilities all the bad things happen suddenly and all the good things take forever and become an exercise in stamina and good file keeping.

Equestrian Trail Map

Since 2014, when we included it as an objective in an MOU with the ACT Government, ACTEA has been pushing for an official map of equestrian trails in Canberra, similar to those available for cycling and walking. Who would have thought it would be so hard? We needed a map that was easy to access by both government agencies, contractors and the equestrian community and able to be amended, where necessary, without a huge process. This made the first attempts to put it onto ACTMapi less than successful. It is a difficult system to use and fraught with bureaucracy, but at least we had, with the help of local community, clearly identified the majority of formal and informal trails used in Canberra. Finally, in September last year we had a breakthrough when City Services, who are responsible for the walking and cycling maps, put some resources into designing a user friendly map you can read on your smart phone and which can be easily updated when circumstances change. We now have a map you can access on their website as well as Parks & Conservation’s website which shows the linkages between government horse paddocks, Equestrian Park, the BNT and local riding trails. It has already been extremely useful as an easy way to explain to people how their activity might impact on equestrian trails.

Heysen Street Bike Path

One of our wins this year was negotiating changes to a proposed new bike path from Streeton Drive to Lyons along Heysen Street. The verge of Heysen Street from the Tuggeranong overpass to the intersection with Devonport Street is still classed as a rural road and the verges are not at all friendly to cyclists and runners who are increasingly endangered by rat run motor traffic trying to avoid the Streeton Drive intersection. The entrance to Illoura Horse Paddocks is at the Devonport Street corner, as is a crossing over to the Oakey Hill Reserve and horse trails to the south. The design for the proposed new cycle path on the southern side of Heysen Street was going to make that crossing very dangerous for equestrians.

There was no way Minister Steel was going to renege on a commitment to the cycling community in regard to the new path but after persistent lobbying and nagging we managed to convince other stakeholders like Pedal Power that there had to be a solution that was safe for everyone. While Roads ACT were reluctant at first, the Western Creek Community Council backed us and Parks and Conservation came on board and the construction of the new path with a detour through the north eastern corner of Oakey Hill Reserve will commence on 17 August. Heyesen Street will be close for 8 months and riders from Illoura will have to contend with an additional cavaletti in the reserve but they won’t risk being caught between speeding cars and bicycles on the crossing. The Minister’s office is touting this as a win for everyone as if it was his idea. We need more of these kinds of outcomes. They take longer but the results are better for everyone.

BNT Through Molonglo

The earliest map I have seen of an equestrian trail around the new suburbs of Coombs and Wright connecting Equestrian Park to Stromlo Forest park is dated November 2012. Since then it has been an ongoing battle to maintain the promised access, to keep it as a safe and enjoyable destination ride and to encourage the government to actually spend dollars on the necessary infrastructure to make the route viable. Despite ACTEA and the BNT reps traipsing along the proposed BNT route on numerous occasions with various government reps and landscape contractors since 2012 there is still no marked equestrian trail for riders to follow. Since 2017 we have got 3 new cavaletti installed and discussed signage. Whenever it looks like we are getting somewhere the Suburban Land Agency embarks on yet another round of landscaping and closes the route. At this point in time we are waiting for the SLA to reopen Southwells Crossing to horses and remove the security fencing and for Parks & Conservation to install trail signage. While we have been very close on more than one occasion we live in hope that we will be able to break out the champagne in 2020. At least we now have a Molonglo River Park Plan of Management, which sets our access in stone.

Long Term Plans for the BNT

Recognising the inevitable pressure on the current route of the BNT through Canberra from almost constant urban development, the local BNT Coordinator and ACTEA have been looking to the future and have been negotiating new routes for the Trail around the western edges of the city. We now have lines on maps around the back of Jacka and Taylor in the north west and around Ginninderry in west Belconnen. We are talking with the developers of Denman Prospect about what looks like a very nice fire trail based route around e western edge of Denman and into the back of Stromlo Forest park. We also have an agreed off road route through Ingledene Forest south of Tharwa. We are waiting for various bits of essential infrastructure to link all these bits up but we now have the essential presence in the landscape.

Canberra Nature Park Plan of Management

The Canberra Nature Park Plan of Management is unlikely to see the light of day until 2021 since the government has put a lot of launches and consultations on hold so as not to detract from Covid messaging. ACTEA took the opportunity this review afforded to seek greater access for horses into a selected group of Nature Parks adjoining existing equestrian trails. We were told that Parks is willing to consider increased access to:

  1. Mt Taylor and Wanniassa Loop

  2. Southern end of Cooleman Ridge NR

  3. Urambi Hills and McQuoids Hill

None of which can happen until the Plan of Management becomes a legal document.

The draft Plan of Management received a very large number of submissions about horses in reserves. You can read the Consultation Report on the Your Say website at https://s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/hdp.au.prod.app.act-yoursay.files/2715/9045/3619/Listening_Report_-_CNP_Draft_Plan.pdf . We have also been advised that the dreadful Annex 5 has disappeared and the wording around introduced weeds and erosion has been used in relation to all users, not just horse riders.

Belconnen Pony Club

2019 has been a big planning year for Belconnen Pony Club. As a result of discussions between the Club, ACTEA, Ginninderry development, the Suburban Land Agency and Rural Services they now have an alternative site for the Club further north. Drawings and costings have been done to design a like-for-like brand new facility. Hopefully before the end of the year the Development Application process for the facility will be completed.

Pressure on the Government Horse Paddocks

In the time I have been President, the pressure on government horse paddocks has been a constant background noise.

Part of Parkwood Paddocks has already disappeared under West Macgregor and the remainder of the Paddocks will be under threat in about 4 years time. Two thirds of Rose Cottage have been turned into a solar farm and eventually a new cemetery. This year Curtin Paddocks have been swept up in an infamous land swap deal between the City Renewal Authority and the National Capital Authority, although it may be some years before the real impact is felt.

Although there has been a small addition to the Cook paddocks the governments attempts to expand Macarthur with the addition of Hume and Gilmore have been less than outstanding. Together with Rural Services and the SLA we are looking at the possibility of new paddocks near the new Belconnen Pony Club. Just this week ACTEA received a letter from Minister Gentleman formally advising that funding in the order of $450,000 has been made available for agistment improvements at the old Pialligo Abattoir holding paddocks as part of the 2020-21 Economic Recovery package.

These paddock losses put pressure on the viability of the entire system and finding away to limit this damage will be a major issue for ACTEA going forward.

The 2020 Bushfire Season

Every year before the bushfire season ACTEA meets with the management of EPIC and the Rural Fire Service, at which time we are told that if we have a fire during the running of Summernats, EPIC will not be available for horse relocation. We are not allowed to call it evacuation as that is a legal term associated with declared disasters and involves the appropriation of money. Until the past summer this has never been a problem as our first fires usually appear after the hot rods have departed. This year our first fires appeared before Christmas.

The RFS was unwilling to take responsibility for finding an alternative relocation venue although they suggested that Queanbeyan Showground was probably the best alternative. There seemed to be an unwillingness to ask NSW for formal assistance. Fortunately the local community is better than that. EPIC management called the Manager of the Queanbeyan Showground personally and asked for her help and Lorrae Stokes came up trumps, even though she was at the same time dealing with evacuees from the south coast. Sport & Recreation Services made Hall Showground available and the lovely people from the Hall Polocross Association called to say they were cleaning the toilets and ready for visitors. All this happened with little help from Emergency Services.

Between all the facilities, including EPIC when it became available, safe haven was made available for over 70 horses from both Canberra agistment centres and properties further afield. ACT& Surrounds Equine Fire Rescue Group did a great job sharing reliable information and coording removal operations.

One of our biggest issues was the confusing messaging from the RFS about access to properties threatened by fire. While the problem wasn’t solely associated with horses it was distressing to get confused message about at what stage roads would be closed to people trying to evacuate their horses. In the end ACTEA had to go to a Minister to get some clarification. It is interesting that in the post fire wash up no one asked the equestrian community about their experiences during the fire and how that could have been handled better. Something for the coming fire season.

2020-21

So for the year 2020-21, which we are well into our priorities look like being keeping the BNT open and safe, getting access to more trails in the Canberra Nature Park, developing a strategy to protect government horse paddocks and getting protocols for bush fire preparedness for the equestrian community locked down.

Our Treasurer, Jaqui Knobel will present the all important financial report and the Derek Pether, the Convenor of the Equestrian Park management Group, will report on the last year at the Park.

Thank You

To end I would like to thank the current ACTEA Committee. We meet every month for 11 months of the year which is no small commitment for busy people but we have a lot to do. Thankfully we have had a stable Committee this year including:

  • Vice-President Cathy Banwell

  • Secretary Catherine Tranter

  • Treasurer Jacqui Knobel

  • Keryn Kefous (Minute Secretary)

  • Helen King

  • Lauren McIntosh

  • Natasha Webb

  • Beth Stone

I am delighted that most of the Committee has agreed to serve for another year so we can make the best use of their experience. Beth has advised that she will not be our public officer this year so it means she has really retired from ACTEA and we wish her all the best in her retirement from retirement.

This is the time, also to recognise the Equestrian Park Management Group, who are the people who make the Park what it is. It is an extremely active group who meet every month and work collectively for all our benefit and by work I really do mean getting on tractors and fixing fences etc. I would particularly like to acknowledge Kate MacKenzie who continues to do a great unpaid job as Equestrian Park Manager

I would like to thank them all for their contribution. And also the other club delegates who turn up regularly and irregularly to our meetings. There are others who have given their time to provide feedback, turned up to field trips and meetings with officials, or just offered encouragement. When you, individually, becomes involved in issues of concern to you, you strengthen our profile in front of government, you learn techniques for dealing with bureaucrats and you understand better how government works – all powerful tools for you and your club.

Christine Lawrence

President

ACT Equestrian Association

12 August 2020

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