by Peter McGlone
With just a few days before submissions were due on the proposed amendments to the Freycinet National Park Management Plan, the TCT discovered the true implication of the proposal. In our media release of Sunday 29 February 2016, we exposed the true consequences of the proposed amendments, which go well beyond the government’s stated objective of allowing expansion of Freycinet Lodge.
The existing plan prohibits any new accommodation outside of existing leases or licences. But the proposed amendments would allow the minister to issue licences or leases for new built accommodation, without limit, opening up the entire Visitor Services Zone (see photo) to new built accommodation.
The consultation document released by the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) justifies the changes only in relation to facilitating the Freycinet Lodge expansion, and does not state the full implications of the changes. Attempting to make dramatic changes such as this to the management plan for a national park, without explaining it to the public, is in our view seriously misleading and a dangerous precedent to set. The TCT can rightly take credit for discovering and exposing this misleading action.
What we do not know is if whether this was a deliberately misleading act or done in error. And we do not know who was responsible, PWS or the minister’s office. But it does seem unlikely that such a basic error would have been made by the PWS planners.
The TCT’s submission opposed the proposal to open up the Coles Bay Visitor Services Zone to new accommodation, as it would lead to major impacts on the environment and recreational use. We also opposed any attempt to limit the amendment to just allowing an expansion of Freycinet Lodge: although preferable to the broader change, it would give an unfair advantage to a single business operator and probably lead to more requests for development in the park.
We stated that, if the government proceeds with the proposed amendments, it must hold another period of public consultation, proactively and intensively consult with all stakeholders, and provide a full explanation of the implications of the changes.
An alternative process
In its submission, the TCT suggested in its submission that a fairer approach would be for PWS to consult the tourism industry and the general public to assess the demand for new built accommodation in the Coles Bay region, the potential for it to be provided outside and inside the national park, and what type of accommodation development might be acceptable (such as replacing existing built structures). We stated that it was inappropriate for the government to propose an amendment to a management plan in response to a request from a single business.
A possible outcome of the TCT’s proposed process may be that areas within the national park are identified as being acceptable for new accommodation developments. If the zone provisions of the management plan are amended to reflect this, then the RACT and any other developer could be invited to make a proposal through a competitive tender process. A thorough assessment would be made of the impacts of successful proposals prior to a lease being issued.
The government’s response
The government has responded to criticism of the proposed removal of constraints on development, by saying that the management plan retains development controls which require any proposal for built accommodation in the Visitor Services Zone to be assessed and potentially go through a public consultation process. Our view is that it is vital to have development constraints at the zoning level as well as having a development assessment process.
However, the government’s claims regarding the requirement for public consultation are not necessarily accurate. Only developments assessed as ‘level four’, under the PWS Reserve Activity Assessment process, are required to be subject to a public consultation process. Furthermore, decisions regarding the appropriate assessment level are at the discretion of the PWS and are not subject to public input.
Consultation with RACT
We sent a copy of our submission to the RACT CEO, Harvey Lennon, who subsequently requested a meeting with me. Harvey gave me a good opportunity to explain our concerns and was willing to listen to my proposal for an alternative approach to addressing the apparent need for new accommodation developments.
Because the RACT’s Board will make the final decision in regard to their development proposal, the TCT has requested, along with five other concerned conservation and community groups, a meeting with the RACT’s President and Board. The response we received seems to leave open that possibility, once the RACT has reassessed its development intentions.
There are two outcomes we are hoping to achieve: that the RACT will withdraw its application and reconsider the Lodge extensions; and that the government will withdraw its proposed changes to the management plan.
We hope to continue our discussions with the RACT, as it is likely that the government will only alter its plans if the RACT withdraws its proposal.