While Adrian Bold continues to capture media attention with his proposal for a Facebook poll to find 2000 Hobartians to support his cable car proposal, the real job of finalising a new Wellington Park Managament Plan continues slowly in the background.
The Wellington Park Management Trust (the Trust) is currently reviewing the issues raised in the 264 submissions made on the Draft Management Plan in October 2012 (including the TCT’s) and has released the ‘Summary of Representations’ that is being used to guide its responses.
Most media coverage of Mt Wellington and the review of the management plan has focused on the proposal to construct a cable car on the mountain; many other very important issues are almost entirely ignored. The following is a summary of the key points made in the TCT’s submission, including our comments on the cable car – the full submission is on the TCT’s website.
Summary of the TCT’s submission on the draft Wellington Park Managament Plan
Purposes for setting aside Wellington Park
The introduction to the Plan states purposes for which Wellington Park is reserved, as set out in the Act. These are:
(b) the preservation or protection of the fauna or flora contained in or on the land;
(c) the preservation or protection of the natural beauty of the land or of any features of the land of natural beauty or scenic interest;
(d) the preservation or protection of any features of the land being features of historical, Aboriginal, archaeological, scientific, architectural or geomorphological interest;
(e) the protection of the water catchment values of the land.
The TCT believes it is vital that the Plan emphasises that the purpose expressed in paragraph (a) is conditional on it being consistent with the purposes stated in paragraphs (b) through to (e).
Clearing and management of native vegetation
The Plan should incorporate a policy that aims to reduce to the absolute minimum, the permanent loss or conversion of native vegetation and ensure that all activity, use and development within the Park aims to avoid degradation of native vegetation and, where possible, vegetation quality is improved.
As an absolute minimum the Plan should commit to ceasing all broad-scale clearing and conversion (as per the Tasmanian Government Policy for Maintaining a Permanent Native Forest Estate Policy) and this should apply to both native forests and other native vegetation on all lands within the Park.
A vegetation clearing and management policy should also prohibit all clearing and conversion, for any purpose, of native vegetation which is:
- habitat of threatened species or vegetation communities;
- in area of high visual sensitivity; or
- in an area subject to high risk of landslip, erosion, storms or flooding.
New uses and developments which are not essential should be limited to already cleared land. The policy should include a definition of an essential development, which should those required for management actions e.g. fire management and should not include new tracks, huts, camping areas and/or commercial facilities.
Vision and objectives
The aim of the Plan should not be to make Mt Wellington ‘accessible’ ‘by all’ but to make it accessible to as many people as possible while retaining the values of the Park.
The first objective in the draft plan states that tourism and recreation should be developed and promoted ‘consistent with the appreciation and enjoyment of environmental, water catchment and cultural values’, whereas the Act says it must be consistent with ‘preservation and protection’ of those values.
Two approval processes
The TCT supports the two approval processes which currently apply in the Park. In particular, it is essential that the Trust maintains its two-fold veto over developments which require approval under the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act (one before and one after approval by local councils). Only the Trust has responsibility for considering the Park as a whole and to ensure any development proposal is consistent with the Plan.
Why the TCT is opposed to a cable car
The draft plan contains no explanation or justification for its proposal to remove the current prohibition on development of a cable car and change it to a discretionary use and development, which is contrary to the vast majority of submissions to the Wellington Park Discussion Paper released in late 2011.
The TCT is opposed to a cable car or any other transport system which would require major new infrastructure on the mountain. We support the introduction of a shuttle bus or similar service to the Pinnacle, as long as it utilises the existing road.
- The draft Plan allows a cable car to be considered and assessed through a set of criteria and processes, but this is not sufficient to protect the mountain and reassure members of the community who do not want one. This uncertainty diminishes community support for the Plan.
- Cable cars cannot be hidden and cannot be built without major destruction of native vegetation and other natural and cultural values. All cable cars involve:
- pylons: ugly structures which on Mt Wellington would be visible from many vantage-points and involve major clearing of vegetation for the pad plus an area for fire protection
- cables and gondolas, which cause visual, and potentially, noise pollution
- a large terminus building at the summit (and possibly also a restaurant), which on Mt Wellington would be a major eyesore and require destruction of vegetation and geological features.
- The Pinnacle and eastern face of the mountain are where most sightseers and other visitors go; a cable car facility will clash with most people’s experience and enjoyment of the area.
- There is no need for a cable car because there is a road to the Pinnacle which is open most of the year. When it is not open, travel to the pinnacle should be supplemented by an all-weather shuttle-us.
- The road would probably need to be closed to make a cable car profitable and this would clearly place an unfair and unwarranted impost on tourists and locals alike. If the road was not closed then proponents would most likely want government assistance to build and operate a cable car, which would also be unfair on taxpayers.
- The Wellington Park Act states that, among its purposes, the Park was reserved for ‘the preservation or protection of the natural beauty of the land or of any features of the land of natural beauty or scenic interest’, and that other uses must be consistent with that aim. Any cable car built on Mt Wellington would diminish its beauty and scenery to some degree and this is inconsistent with the reasons for which the Park was reserved.
- The approved Springs development includes a restaurant and information centre, which should satisfy those people wanting this type of comfort and service when visiting the Park. Such development does not need to be replicated on the summit – and development of similar services on the summit could actually inhibit investment in the Springs development or make it less viable.
- The Park has an impressive number of visitors who enjoy a diverse range of mainly low-impact activities, including many who are paying customers of a growing number of businesses operating in the Park. A cable car may serious clash with their use and enjoyment of the mountain.
- Chapter 8 of the draft plan identifies the very large number of tourists and others who visit the Park, and can point to no data which says any of them are disappointed in the experience they have. Apart from vague reference to public debate about dissatisfaction with facilities at the summit and desire among some for a cable car, no evidence is provided.
If the Plan recommends that a cable car be considered as discretionary, we recommend that certain criteria must be met:
- That any use or development in the Pinnacle Special Area be limited to areas that are currently developed, e.g. on the site of the viewing shelter, the height of any new development is the same as the current ground level and structures are entirely covered with natural materials.
- That restriction is placed on any commercial developments in the Pinnacle Special Area such that they do not unduly compete with or dominate those commercial developments which are currently permitted at the Springs. This would achieve the intent of the Plan, that ‘The Springs is the favoured area for a visitor centre and for services facilitating longer visits’. One criterion which should be required is that commercial food facilities in the Pinnacle area only provide take-away food and drinks (along with appropriate disposal facilities) and not sit-down facilities.
- That proposals can only be considered if they involve no clearing and conversion of native vegetation, i.e. all infrastructure is to be established solely on already cleared land, and there is to be no use or development in areas identified as having high visual sensitivity.
- That any cable car proposal should be conditional upon the Pinnacle Road being kept open to the public at all times, except when the Trust deems it should be closed for safety reasons due to snow or ice. Any cable car proposal must be shown to be financially feasible with the road kept open and without government assistance.
- As security against a cable car being built and failing, for financial or other reasons, and its infrastructure being left in the Park, that the proponent must be required to submit funding to the Trust to cover the complete cost of removal of all permanent components of the cable car and rehabilitation of all impacts. The total cost of removal and rehabilitation should be determined by the Trust, subject to independent financial assessment.
In Chapter 5 of the Plan,it is stated that ‘wildfire remains the largest threat to the Park both in the short term and into the future, and thus requires a significant management focus’. The Plan makes the additional point that the Park has within it vegetation communities which are adapted to fire and therefore require some burning, and other communities which are highly vulnerable to fire and require protection from fire.
It also states that, while there are no records of recent fires caused by lightning, evidence from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area suggest that this may change in the future. The Plan includes the following ominous quote from the 2010 DPIPWE report Vulnerability of Tasmania’s Natural Environment to Climate Change.
In the decade of fire seasons 1991–2000, unpublished Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service records show 14 lightning fires were recorded on reserved land with a total area burnt of 11,245ha. In the seven fire seasons from 2000–2011 onwards there were 155 lightning fires and 160,698ha of reserved land burnt. Lightning is now the major cause of wildfire in the TWWHA, whereas in 1986 it was considered that ‘in Tasmania there is no strong relationship between thunderstorms and fire’ (Bowman and Brown 1986).
The TCT believes these factors require that fire be made the highest management priority in the Plan and consideration be given to fire management for ecological purposes, overriding other fire management objectives if required. This might involve forgoing fuel-reduction burns for asset protection in sensitive vegetation.
Many non-essential activities and developments recommended in the Plan could be halted, scaled back or slowed down to help free up existing resources for fire management.
The TCT strongly supports the requirement stated in the Plan that all dogs in the Park be restrained on a lead. We also support the prohibition on dogs accessing Silver Falls Track, Lost World Track, North-South Track and picnic areas in the Park.
Formal camping, huts and new tracks, lookouts etc
The TCT recommends that formal camping, huts, new tracks and any other related infrastructure only be permitted in already cleared or highly degraded areas. We do not support the potential establishment of new tracks in the remote zone.
We recommend that there be no further tracks constructed for recreational purposes and that an upper limit be set on the number, extent and scale of viewing shelters, lookouts and picnic/barbecue facilities.
Proposal for a multi-day recreation track
The TCT does not currently support the development of a multi-day recreational track on Mt Wellington. The process whereby this proposal was recommended and received funding for a feasibility study was not transparent or public and we do not want to encourage any project which is funded in such a manner. We recommend that a statewide study be done to identify priorities for potential multi-day recreation tracks and, if possible, that the funding provided for the Mt Wellington track be allocated to a state-wide study.
Communication and electricity facilities
The Plan should include stronger requirements in regard to existing or already-approved communication and electricity facilities within the Pinnacle Specific Area, Natural Zone, Remote Zone and Drinking Water Catchment Zone. The Plan should state that the Trust will actively seek to work with infrastructure managers to regularly investigate financially viable technological developments that might allow removal of or improvements to existing facilities, thereby reducing impacts on the values of the Park.
Park boundaries and expansion
The TCT strongly supports the inclusion of the three identified parcels of land into Wellington Park and commends the Hobart City Council and Glenorchy City Council for agreeing to these inclusions. We support the work done by the Trust to identify an additional 15 properties for possible inclusion and acknowledges the importance of these properties in regard to management of the Park.
Throughout our submission, the TCT made recommendations to ensure that more resources are made available for implementing the Plan and, in particular, protecting the values of the Park. We support a greater allocation of funds annually from the state government and councils, and through user-pays models relating to visitor access. We also encourage a greater allocation of existing resources to priority management actions, in particular fire management.
We recommend that the Plan be amended to ensure that all non-essential management actions and developments are halted, scaled back or slowed down to ensure greater allocation of resources to key management actions. For example, this would involve a moratorium on building of any new tracks, huts and camping grounds until fire management has progressed to a satisfactory level.
Wellington Park Management Committee
The TCT strongly recommends the inclusion of recreation, community and conservation positions on the Wellington Park Trust management committee.