West Head Lookout plan paused

After concerns were expressed about a National Parks and Wildlife Service plan to install a new safety barrier at West Head Lookout, NPWS “has paused this project and is committed to undertaking further analysis and consultation to develop a suitable barrier which meets NPWS requirements for visitor safety and responds positively to the character of the lookout”.

NPWS says it is “obtaining further assessment and advice on this project”.

WPCA made a submission to NPWS outlining a number of concerns, saying that works should not proceed as currently designed until a detailed heritage assessment can be undertaken.

 “The new balustrade proposed for West Head shows a lack of understanding of place and design by NPWS. Even more concerning, the design when viewed from an oblique angle actually presents as a visually solid wall.”

The lookout design by Bruce MacKenzie was created at a pivotal time when non-indigenous Australians were beginning to understand the unique nature of Australian flora, said the submission.

“The design at West Head with the low sandstone walls at a comfortable sitting height invites people to feel at one with the landscape beyond. The proposed balustrade railings block and cut people off from the landscape. This is a banal solution to an iconic place that has for years connected people with the landscape in an intimate way. The proposed balustrade destroys the sense of connection and focuses on view rather than place.”

WPCA also stated its support for a submission made by the National Trust of Australia (NSW). The Trust said it was “very concerned” about the planned works, which “will destroy a unique piece of Australian landscape design by one of Australia’s pre-eminent Landscape Architects”. While acknowledging the need for safety and visitor access to the site, the Trust also noted “the unique heritage values” of West Head Looking and its landscaping. The Trust also said:

“The NPWS website notes that ‘The West Head Lookout is considered one of Sydney’s best vantage points with views across Broken Bay to Barrenjoey Headland, Lion Island and the Central Coast.’ This is in large part due to the existing site treatment, and the influence of the modern movement in landscape design in Australia. These very qualities are under threat.”

The NPWS Project Summary:

  • The West Head Lookout project in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Pak aims to remediate the structural stability of the lookout and improve visitor safety.
  • As part of the project, several options were considered to deliver improved stability, visitor safety and to ensure the character and views of the much-loved lookout is retained.
  • The project is required to deliver safety improvements which meet current Australian standards and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) responsibilities to ensure risks to park users are adequately managed and are as low as reasonably possible. 
  • The project deliverables are to strengthen the existing lookout retaining wall and install a barrier independent of the existing retaining wall to restrict access to the lookout edge for public safety and in compliance with current standards.

Concerns about structural stability is driving the project

  • An engineering inspection was completed as part of NPWS’ Asset Management Program.
  • The inspection revealed concerns in the structural stability of the lookout. Further investigation led to the installation of temporary fencing in May 2021 while a long-term solution was developed to remediate the lookout and reduce risk to visitors.

 An initial heritage impact statement considered initial West Head Lookout designs

  • The lookout is not listed on the State Heritage Register nor the Pittwater Local Environmental Plan 2014. The national park is listed on the National Heritage List.
  • West Head Lookout’s architectural form and character contributes to its popularity with visitors and was one of the key considerations in the development of this project.
  • An initial heritage impact statement was completed by external consultants, which followed the Heritage Council of NSW guidelines for ‘Assessing Cultural Heritage Significance’ and ‘Preparing Statements of Heritage Impact’.
  • The impact statement considered the early design concepts to improve visitor safety and potential impacts on the character of the lookout. These options were not further developed as significant structural risks were identified during detailed investigation which required modified designs.
  • Additional heritage advice will be sought before a final design solution is selected.

Removal of the low stone wall was considered by NPWS

  • The West Head Lookout is characterised by its stone pavement and low sandstone walls around the perimeter of the lookout, garden beds and seating areas.
  • Initially, three concepts for improving the safety of the lookout were considered with different balustrade forms retaining the original low stone wall along the perimeter. However, additional engineering assessments, including core drilling to investigate the structure itself, identified issues which rendered these options redundant.
  • The engineering assessment also found the perimeter wall to be a significant risk. It was not designed appropriately as a load bearing structure, meaning that it is not suitable for sitting, leaning or standing on, particularly considering the overall age and condition of the lookout. 
  • Work to strengthen the lookout structure below ground is essential. Coupled with requirements for improving the safety of this structure, the low stone wall would provide no benefit to either structural stability or visitors safety. Despite the contribution of this element to the character of the place, removal was an option that NPWS needed to consider.

All concepts consider the physical and visual impacts as well as visitor safety

  • All concepts for this project considered physical and visual impacts on the lookout including character and views.
  • The current design, which has been circulated to the community via the project webpage and newsletter, meets current Australian standards as specified in the NPWS Parks Facilities Manual. This provides a consistent standard for built infrastructure across parks including NPWS’ approach to visitor safety where there is risk of falls.
  • NPWS must consider potential risks for harm in all parks. Fatalities have occurred in national parks due to falls and NPWS has a responsibility to manage this and reduce this risk where possible. Structural improvements will be delivered as part of this project with further analysis and design on improving visitors’ safety around the lookout edge undertaken before works commence.

NPWS considered alternatives to balustrade in terms of environmental impact

  • NPWS considered options as alternatives to a new balustrade, for example, raising the ground level beyond the existing lookout wall or installing netting or other barriers along the cliff edge.
  • These measures are assessed in terms of environmental impacts (i.e. because of earthworks), ongoing maintenance liabilities, Building Code Australia requirements, resourcing impacts and costs. Based on these considerations, these options were not viable as a long-term solution.


  • At West Head Lookout, several actions have occurred:
    • development of a project webpage at (published May 2021) that provides background to the project and progress updates. The project webpage is available here.
    • onsite signage to inform visitors to the lookout of the project (with reference to the project webpage and contact information)
    • a newsletter is sent to identified stakeholders when there are project updates. Anyone can sign up to receive this newsletter from the project webpage.
    • direct updates are sent to identified commercial operators and community groups.
  • Face-to-face engagement actions are on hold due to current COVID-19 restrictions and Public Health Orders.
  • NPWS has paused this project and is committed to undertaking further analysis and consultation to develop a suitable barrier which meets NPWS requirements for visitor safety and responds positively to the character of the lookout.
  • NPWS will continue to provide information to the public and opportunities to provide feedback on the project.
  • NPWS sought expert advice to inform and guide this project. This included:
    • structural engineering
    • geotechnical engineering
    • heritage
    • risk assessment
    • environmental impact
    • Aboriginal heritage
    • BCA advice
    • accessibility.

The proposed works are consistent with Plan of Management

  • The proposed works align with the overall strategy for the management of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in the Plan of Management (2002, revised 2014 and currently under review).
  • The Plan of Management aims to maintain and promote selected sites and facilities in the national park that can cope with the high levels of visitor use, and limit facilities to existing developed areas of the national park or park boundaries where possible, rather than further dissecting the park with new developments.
  • The heritage and character of places in our national parks is a consideration for all projects that require repairs, remediation works or upgrades. This must be balanced with our responsibilities for visitor safety and risk management.

Image: West Head Lookout – Courtesy Destination NSW

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