The state government has been keen for Tasmania to be ‘open to development’ and part of this push is to ‘unlock national parks and other reserves’. It seems that the government has a very keen collaborator in the Clarence City Council (CCC).
Perhaps the most ambitious proposal for a development on reserved land (that has progressed beyond the concept stage) since the Tasmanian Liberal government was elected is the one by Hunter Developments’ proposal for a tourism development in the Rosny Hill Nature Recreation Area (Rosny Hill NRA). The principal player behind this consortium is Robert Morris Nunn’s company, Circa Morris Nunn Architects.
The Rosny Hill NRA was proclaimed under the Nature Conservation Act but is managed by the CCC under a special Parliamentary Order issued in 2009. It contains valuable grassy woodland and grassland and includes populations of several threatened grassland plants. It is also important for recreation and provides one of the most spectacular views of Hobart and Mt Wellington, which attracts many tourists and locals.
I am sure that this proposal is being looked at very closely by the state government and developers as a test case for what may be possible in terms of development in reserved land. There are many facets of the proposal, the assessment, and the consultation process that are deeply concerning and must be countered if we are to ensure the door is not opened to totally unsuitable development in reserves.
The development is described as a tourist accommodation and conference facility. It includes: 120 guest suites, a restaurant seating 150 people, a function centre catering for 300 people, gym and spa facilities and a wildlife sanctuary.
The most concerning part of the proposal is the guest accommodation. The other parts of the proposal are largely constrained to existing developed land and are less of a concern.
Rosny Hill NRA is only 20 hectares and the proposed development has a footprint of about 30% of that area, 6 ha. Compare this to the expressions of interest document issued by CCC which identified two degraded areas totalling only 0.92ha (4% of the total) where development was preferred.
The fact that CCC is promoting the idea has a lot to do with its Liberal-leaning Mayor, Doug Chipman. Having read his media release of 28 April 2015 and heard his statements at the public meeting held by the proponent, I got the clear impression that he is a strong advocate for this development and others in reserved land.
The public meeting
The Rosny Hill Bowling Club was jam-packed on 6 May with upwards of 90 people to hear a presentation from Robert Morris Nunn and ask questions. In my estimation, 80% of those present opposed the development. Based on those who spoke, opposition was almost entirely because of the accommodation component. I don’t think one person opposed development on the existing car park and lookout area but most thought the accommodation was out of proportion to the reserve. Ironically, Robert Morris Nunn said that the development could not be commercially viable without the accommodation component.
Concerns were raised regarding impacts on recreational enjoyment, removal of privacy for residents and increasing traffic, particularly at night time. Many locals expressed concern regarding the dumping of rubbish in the reserve, hooning by young drivers and illegal practices including intravenous drug use. Some would not visit the reserve or thought the reserve unappealing due to these problems. Some said they supported the development because it would be the only way to fix these problems.
Mayor Doug Chipman answered some questions, which, in the main, was very helpful. But he injected some politics into what was meant to be an independent consultative process by stating that the Rosny Hill NRA was expensive for council to manage. In his view some of the problems associated with illegal use were not being effectively addressed and that partnering with commercial operators was needed to improve management.
I have never heard such a clear public statement of this philosophy, i.e. we need to develop reserves to protect them. In future this may be cited by other councils and the State Government as a justification for developments in reserves.
We found out at the public meeting that other proposals had been received but only Hunter Development’s was deemed eligible by council. No information has yet been provided regarding the other proposals. This was meant to be a competitive process so the council should have called for more expressions of interests.
The consultation process
The consultation process for this proposal is unusual, to say the least. The CCC issued a media release notifying the community that the Morris-Nunn proposal was selected as the preferred development and that public submissions were invited to Circa Morris Nunn Architects’ email address. No other way of making submissions was advertised. Anyone looking at the CCC website would have had to know to look for the media release, because the proposal and the call for submissions were not advertised anywhere else on the website. There were no newspaper advertisements.
Circa Morris Nunn Architects later letter-boxed the local community near Rosny Hill to advertise the public meeting regarding the proposal. I found out about the meeting when a local resident phoned me.
At the public meeting there was no hand-out advising people how to make submissions, only some confusing oral instructions. I believe some people thought submissions were to be made to the CCC.
TCT submission: key points and recommendations
The TCT believes that the proposed project is inconsistent with the management objectives for a Nature Recreation Area and the CCC’s Rosny Hill Nature Recreation Area Management Strategy, because of the impacts it would have on native vegetation. It is also at odds with the Invitation for Expressions of Interest documents produced by the CCC.
The TCT recommends that the current proposal be withdrawn. If another proposal is to be attempted, we recommend that a development concept is prepared in collaboration with the local community, so that their interests are taken into account, and that it be consistent with the objectives of a Nature Recreation Area and the Council’s Management Strategy.
The biggest environmental impact of this proposal would be the loss and degradation of native vegetation due to construction of the accommodation.
A development of this scale would permanently remove a large proportion of the native vegetation within the development footprint, although we accept it would not remove all the vegetation within the footprint. Vegetation would be removed from underneath the buildings, for the service road and access paths, the water reservoir and other infrastructure. Added to this, vegetation will be either permanently removed or altered, i.e. removal of some trees and shrubs and fallen wood, in the Fuel Reduction Zone. Remaining vegetation adjacent to the buildings will suffer degradation during construction and operation of the facility. It will include some highly fragmented patches that will be very difficult to successfully manage.
In particular, having potentially hundreds of people accessing the bushland surrounding the accommodation for recreation would cause significant direct damage (trampling) as well as indirect damage through making the vegetation more susceptible to weed incursion.
The proposed development has been located to avoid the need for clearing areas where there are known threatened species and threatened communities. However, populations of Lepidium pseudotasmanicum (state-listed as rare) and Austrodanthonia induta (now renamed Rytidosperma indutum – state-listed as rare) are on the boundary of the development footprint, putting them at grave risk from fire management activities and operation of the accommodation. While these species cope with some types and levels of disturbance, this must be done very carefully so as not to cause significant loss of individual plants. We are also concerned that there is a potential for increased run-off from the development onto the areas occupied by these threatened species; this should be avoided.