NATIONAL Parks and Transport for NSW have raised a host of concerns about the proposed Richmond Vale Rail Trail but maintain "in-principle" support for the 32-kilometre cycling path.
The trail is planned to run from Shortland to Kurri Kurri, traversing the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Cessnock council areas mostly following the old Richmond Vale railway line.
City of Newcastle lodged a development application for its section of the project in August.
The DA, which the agencies recently responded to, seeks approval to build the Newcastle paths only but some of the documents cover the entire route.
National Parks (NP) acknowledged the trail's potential to "provide a high-quality nature-based tourism and visitation experience", but "found key issues" in the Environmental Impact Statement and associated DA documents "that need to be resolved" before the proposal can be "comprehensively assessed and supported".
The EIS did not fully detail the potential biodiversity impacts on NP land, including the extent of clearing, impacts on threatened flora "known to occur" in Hunter Wetlands National Park and migratory shorebirds.
About 26.5 hectares of exotic or planted vegetation, and 3.3 hectares of native vegetation, are proposed to be cleared and the agency requested a breakdown of how much of its land would be cleared, and for a stewardship site to be established nearby to offset land impacts.
The trail between Shortland and Hexham follows an old water pipeline track, which the agency said would impact its ability to manage its lands unless further provisions were made.
The council's EIS proposes dogs be allowed on sections of the trail outside National Parks land, but the agency said that was "impractical" and called for them to be banned on the entire route.
The sections on its land will require a licence under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, and the trail's construction and management will have to adhere to a range of NP policies. One example is any event, like a fun run, would require NP approval.
Transport for NSW said the DA documents were "deficient" and did not allow it to "undertake an appropriate level of assessment".
It said a trail link to Tarro was "within the construction and operational footprint" of the planned M1 Motorway extension between Black Hill and Raymond Terrace.
"The preferred cycleway route crosses the proposed [road], and it is likely that TfNSW would need to permanently divert the [trail]... around the section of motorway elevated on fill," it said.
While that section is not slated as part of the initial project, Transport for NSW said the trail between Hexham and Stockrington was an "important consideration informing the corridor planning process" for a freight rail line between Fassifern and Hexham.
It requested council "liaise" with the agency to ensure the trail "does not impose significant constraints on the design of [the line]".
It also asked for more information about how the trail crosses state roads, including the condition of old rail tunnels.
In a positive sign, it said it was "keen to work" with council on "big picture strategic cycling connections", including linking the trail to Hexham station and the Tomago industrial area.
Leigh Gibbens, secretary of the trail advocacy group RVRT Inc, said some of the agencies' concerns were warranted but they could likely all be addressed.
"Both bodies offer insights into the many opportunities that the trail will bring to the region," she said.
"The issues they raise will be readily overcome."