National parks opened to development

HOTELS, restaurants and commercial tourism developments will now be allowed in Victorian National Parks, including Wilsons Promontory, with operators given 99 year leases.

While the tourism and accommodation industry celebrated the recent passing of the National Parks Amendment Bill 2013, allowing private investment in tourism infrastructure in a number of national parks groups such as the Victorian National Parks Association and the Friends of the Prom have decried the legislation as giving developers virtual freehold of some of the state’s most cherished national parks.

Victoria Tourism Industry Council chief executive Dianne Smith said the legislation would add to the depth and quality of visitor experiences available in Victoria.

“This represents great progress for Victoria’s tourism industry . . . by allowing appropriate investment, our national parks will be more accessible for locals and visitors to appreciate the natural beauty that Victoria has to offer, and ease the economic burden currently on government to maintain and develop these places.

“The legislation allows private investment in appropriate and sustainable tourism infrastructure in Victoria’s national parks and extends the lease period for national park land up to 99 years.”

VNPA executive director Matt Ruchel said Victorians had been betrayed by the legislation.

“The Victorian Government needs to focus on creating tourism developments outside of our national parks to ensure that our finest natural areas are protected for all time,” he said.

“We can have vibrant tourism, and protect our national parks, but only if new developments are planned outside but close to park boundaries, giving us the best of both worlds.”

VNPA parks protection officer Phil Ingamells dismissed claims by the Napthine government and some segments of the tourism industry that private developments in parks encouraged a deeper understanding of the environment as a complete furphy.

“Claims that developments in parks provide additional revenue for park management are hollow. Neither the tourism industry nor the government have provided any substantial details on how this might work,” he said.

“Generally the opposite is true. Commercial development perverts park management, swallowing up scarce resources that would otherwise have been used to help the environment.”

Eastern Victoria MLC Philip Davis said small-scale, sensitive investments will be made in National Parks following the passing of a bill in state parliament.

Mr Davis rejected claims that the amendment to the National Parks Act would see a rush on large scale development in parks.

“This is enabling legislation that will ensure that any lease granted reflects the government’s commitment to sensible and sensitive investments under the National Parks Act,” he said.

“The legislation also specifies areas of high biodiversity where leases will not be granted.

“The huts will be unobtrusive, ecologically sensitive and most carefully positioned and managed.”

Mr Davis said that four million hectares or about 17 per cent of the state is made up of national parks and while the parks are well attended, visitors are only getting a limited experience.

“A majority of people do not venture more than about a kilometre into any national park, but if they had a tour guide, a warm bed and hot food provided for them they may experience our stunning landscapes from a new perspective,” he said.

Mr Davis said that allowing for longer term leases of up to 99 years will provide certainty and a greater incentive for appropriate developments.

“Proposals will require consultation with the National Parks Advisory Council and public consultation where longer term leases are proposed,” he said.

“Any lease or licence issued must include conditions that prevent or minimise any adverse impacts on the park and its features.”

“These eight key principals make it clear that any proposal must be of net public benefit and must meet a range of environmental, social and economic criteria,” Mr Davis said.