Northern Beaches councillors are divided over a proposal for Palm Beach Headland to become a dark sky place, after some residents voiced concern over the ‘further commercialisation’ of the area.
The proposal would see Northern Beaches Council apply to the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) for the headland to be designated the first Urban Night Sky Place (UNSP) in Australia.
The designation would recognise the headland, which encompasses Governor Phillip Park and Barrenjoey Headland, as an urban area that promotes an authentic night-time experience.
UNSPs highlight the value of dark sky areas as a resource to address light pollution in urban and suburban settings. Such light pollution can have a significant impact on wildlife, including migratory species.
Council sought community feedback on the proposal between November 2020 and March this year, with most respondents and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) supportive of the project.
However, residents’ group the Palm Beach and Whale Beach Association (PBWBA) has expressed concerns that the UNSP designation would result in overuse of the area and have a negative impact on public safety.
The association is concerned by plans for the headland be promoted as a destination for stargazing and to play host to four astronomy-focused events per year.
This led Council staff and some councillors to recommend against pursuing the UNSP designation.
“The residents' association and locals have all said they're vehemently opposed. They're concerned about the further commercialisation of that park and the 24/7 effects. They've already got to put up with ‘Home and Away’ filming and tourists during the day, and now they’re adding night times,” Mayor Michael Regan explains.
Despite this, most councillors voted to move ahead with the IDA application in August, labelling the designation a ‘wonderful educational opportunity’.
“The fact that it is a maximum four [events] a year, I don’t feel that really burdens any particular community,” said Councillor Roslyn Harrison.
“It’s well away from any housing in terms of Palm Beach. I’m not sure astronomers are a particularly wild and loud group of people, and since we’ve got a limit of 50 people per event, I think this is an opportunity to take up,” added Councillor Ian White.
Debate continued at September’s Council meeting, with Mayor Regan bringing forward a recission motion to halt the application and allow for further consultation with residents.