Planning nod for resort

An artist's impression of the proposed Nunduk development at Seacombe.
An artist's impression of the proposed Nunduk development at Seacombe.

WELLINGTON Shire Council voted to grant a planning permit for the Nunduk development at Seacombe during Tuesday night's meeting, despite a council officer's recommendation to reject it.

The developer of the $80 million six-star resort says it is restoring degraded land on the southern side of Lake Wellington.

Built to target the eco-tourism market, Nunduk - Gunaikurnai for "the bark of a tree" - will take up 9.7 hectares of a 2480ha sheep farm.

The complex will include 36 luxury rooms in the main hotel building, 45 rooms in villa units, as well as restaurants, spas, treatment rooms, galleries and indigenous cultural centre.

Floor levels will need to be 30 centimetres above the predicted flood level.

The developers have proposed on-site water and sewerage treatment and servicing through renewable energy.

The recommended rejection of the planning permit was based on two objections.

The West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority was concerned about the rick of extreme flooding in the area, while the state Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning had issues with the removal of native vegetation and the effect the development would have on endangered wildlife and plants.

Developer James Troedel told council there had been many discussions with the WGCMA and DELWP about their objections, which were maintained despite making changes to the plans.

"We represent about two hectares out of a floodplain of 150,000ha, so how we are actually going to damage the health of the floodplain is beyond our comprehension," Mr Troedel said.

"There is no way that our farmland, which goes underwater for two days every seven years, is a designated waterway.

"Why is CMA going through all these somersaults and backflips to try and stop this project?

"The answer is quite simple- the CMA cannot admit that this land is degraded because the CMA are responsible for that degradation.

"When I first came here, our sheep used to graze from the front country, our sheep used to drink from the lake - it was a freshwater lake. It is now a saltwater lake.

"That salt is now coming across the hinterland, along the edge of the lake and killing it."

Mr Trodel questioned DELWP's claim the project would endanger 17 species of birds and seven species of plant.

"This beggars belief, because there's actually only two plants on this bit of land," he said.

"Their computer modelling has our land listed as 'pristine wetland' and therefore by doing anything we're going to be endangering all these species.

"Standing on the site, I said (to DELWP staff) 'look at your feet, this is not pristine wetland, this is degraded land'.

"Even the regional manager of DELWP standing there said, 'mmm, there seems to be disconnect between our model and reality'.

"DELWP's objection is based on virtual reality - it is not based on what is there."

Mr Troedel said he was working with the University of Melbourne to use "regenerative design principles" for the project, and landscape architects who planned the Royal Botanic Gardens Australian gardens at Cranbourne.

"We're going to actually improve the biodiversity of this land, and we're going to create some freshwater wetlands ... so we will attract back the migratory birds that have gone missing," he said.

"We're going to create 200 jobs.

"This is an area that is screaming for employment.

Mr Troedel said Nunduk would "open up the whole lakes system", by providing a link between the Port of Sale, Loch Sport and the eastern end of the lakes.

"Lake Wellington is the biggest asset this shire has, and it is totally unused," he said.

"What Nunduk will do is create a destination point in Lake Wellington."

Councillor Darren McCubbin said while council supported the project, environmental concerns needed to the addressed.

"This isn't a carte blanche to do whatever they want on that particular site - there are four pages of permits and conditions, and an environmental management plan is required," he said.

"Prior to construction there's a whole lot of hurdles the developer has to work through with our planning department to ensure that the promises that are delivered here at the meeting tonight are actually created on the ground."

Cr McCubbin said this development would improve land which had undergone significant stress because of salinity in the Gippsland Lakes.

"Let's be absolutely clear about this - this is not pristine wetland, this is farming land," he said.

Cr Gayle Maher said eco-tourism was a large gap in the local tourism sector.

"We certainly need and welcome such a development," she said.

"The potential that it brings has significant economic benefit to not just the Loch Sport community and the Longford community, but also to Sale and the wider Gippsland region."

Mayor Alan Hall saw the project as being critical to the ongoing wellbeing of Wellington Shire and

the eastern end of the Gippsland Lakes system.

"There is no doubt that the Port of Sale is the closest entry point to the Gippsland Lakes from Melbourne," he said.

"Anything which stops traffic and makes them turn down to Wellington Shire for an experience is a win for us.

"There is no doubt there is a very significant gap in the marketplace, and this development will in fact work on that gap."

The only councillor to vote against the application, Carolyn Crossley said the land was part of an important wetlands area.

"(WGCMA) don't just look at it in isolation of that one plot of land," she said.

"It looks at the whole area of that catchment. "It's on the directory of important wetlands in Australia.

"There are six criteria, and Lake Wellington has met all six, so it's not quite as degraded as you might believe.

"The key thing for me is we've been given, as the responsible authority, clear indication that this is considered to be considerable risk for flooding and endangering both the life of the people who might be staying there, workers and also emergency service people that may be required."