SUPPORT is strong, though not universal, for a major eco-tourism development proposed for just outside the gates of Wilsons Promontory National Park.
The proposal has the backing of South Gippsland Shire, which hosted a celebratory event with the landowner, Tom Tootell, on the 256 acre site last Thursday.
The event was held to celebrate Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s recent approval of rezoning the Yanakie land from Farming Zone to Special Use Zone.
The rezoning gives flexibility to prospective developers of the land, which was once part of a dairy farm but since it was bought by Mr Tootell eight years ago has been revegetated and landscaped with a view to developing it as a nature retreat with large scale accommodation in 50 cabins.
“It’s a magnificent property in a magnificent setting,” enthused the shire’s economic development manager, Ken Fraser, and it was impossible to disagree in last Thursday’s autumn sunshine. There was not a breath of wind and the property, which boasts stunning coastal views to the mountains of the Prom, was at its sparkling best.
Mr Fraser said the Special Use zoning allowed more than the small tourism operations permitted in the standard Rural Activity Zone.
“There’s the opportunity for an integrated eco-tourism centre, part accommodation, part bistro and possibly part retail – perhaps a camping gear shop. The conference market is critical and carries with it the potential for re-visits to the area from people who have attended conferences in such a setting.
“I am confident that investors will come. They have been looking for certainty, and thanks to the work of our strategic planning team over the last couple of years, they have that now,” added Mr Fraser.
Mr Tootell and his site manager John Parkinson took local press representatives, shire officers, Mayor Warren Raabe, Coastal-Promontory Ward Councillor Mohya Davies, as well as Rob Black, a project officer from Parks Victoria, and Graham Scott from the Department of Business and Innovation, on a tour of the property.
At the top of the property, which slopes down to Corner Inlet, Mr Tootell has plans to build 50 cabins and a bar/bistro if a suitable investor can be found. The lower 100 acres will be given over to wetlands and bushland.
He showed where Greenfleet workers have planted 150,000 trees, encouraging visits from a wide variety of wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus and many birds. As if on cue, a couple of kangaroos hopped across the track and Cape Barren Geese could be seen wading in the wetlands further down the property.
Mr Tootell has had his site manager building canals among the swampy lower reaches of the property, opening up opportunities for canoeists. He pointed out piles of hay bales which have been strategically placed around the property and which he plans to cover with earth and vegetation, creating a landscape attractive to wildlife and nature lovers.
“My intention has always been to protect the Prom from development within the Park. There has been pressure over the years to put a commercial enterprise at the Prom. I don’t want that to happen,” said Mr Tootell, admitting he was part of the famous ‘Hands off the Prom’ campaign.
“Comfort and nature” encapsulate his vision for the property. “In effect, it will be a mini-park outside the main national park.”
Touring the property in his last hurrah as South Gippsland Shire’s tourism coordinator, Christian Stefani, who now manages community relations at the shire, spoke enthusiastically about the tourism potential of Mr Tootel’s vision.
Roofed accommodation inside the Prom is at near capacity for much of the year, and through the summer months even camping sites can only be obtained through a ballot system. Mr Stefani is hopeful that the Prom gate development could meet the need for extra accommodation. He said the shire would be promoting the opportunities it can see in the Prom gate site at its stand at the Regional Living Expo in Melbourne at the end of the month.
Speaking to ‘The Mirror’ later, Parks Victoria’s Chief Ranger for Wilsons Promontory National Park, Helen Dixon, added her support for the rezoning, describing it as a “fantastic outcome” which would help support regional tourism. She said the Prom got very busy over summer and a development creating further opportunity for visitors to come and enjoy the Prom would be welcome. She said that she was hopeful of working with any developers of the site on additional services, perhaps a walking track linking to the park.
NEIGHBOUR RAISES CONCERNS
Amidst all the enthusiasm for the project, from the shire in particular but also reportedly from Tourism Victoria, there is some opposition. Neighbour Len Fleming has a litany of complaints.
For a start, he is sceptical of the need for a large-scale tourism accommodation enterprise and concerned about its impact on small businesses in the Yanakie area.
“There are hundreds of cabins in the area which more than cater for people who can’t get roofed accommodation at the Prom,” he asserted.
“It’s a mirror image of what was attempted – and failed – 20 years ago.”
Mr Fleming, who has lived on the next door property for 27 years, said he was surprised that the shire would encourage a large-scale development and all the infrastructure it entails, such as water and power, so far from a township. He said that he couldn’t help but feel that Mr Tootel has been given special treatment.
He said Mr Tootel’s land was once part of a viable dairy farm – and could still be – and it was a shame to see good dairy land go to waste. Furthermore, Mr Tootel should not, said Mr Fleming, have opened up the lower reaches of his property – via his network of canals – to the salty water of Corner Inlet.
“The community has not been consulted – and I’m the next door neighbour,” he said, adding that he was concerned about living next door to a large-scale development. “If I wanted motels and bright lights and thousands of neighbours I’d live in Southbank!”
He said that he was perplexed by the shire’s simultaneous rezoning of a large parcel of land around the corner in Foley Road as Rural Activity Zone, with a view to encourage small-scale tourism ventures.
“Who in their right mind would want to develop something there in opposition to this?”
Mr Fleming was not totally negative, however, admitting that there was something to be said for a restaurant facility in Yanakie.
A local tourism operator agreed, saying:”A bistro would be fabulous.” She said that the Prom gate development proposal has merit, partly because of the bistro but also because of its promise of large-scale accommodation. “Something that we are lacking in this area is group accommodation. This would complement what is here already and offer more choice [as to where to stay] for domestic and especially international visitors.”
For more information and have your say about the development visit www.wilsonspromretreat.com.au