Public shut out of parks project assessments

THE State Government’s expression of interest process for developments in national parks and reserves has been operating in near total secrecy. Of 16 projects progressed to the final lease and licence stage, 14 have had no public consultation.

Information available on approved Expressions of Interest projects amounts to less than two pages and the Government has not confirmed whether more details are required in the “hidden” assessment process.

Proponents of two projects have requested changes to statutory management plans, the Narawntapu Adventures horseriding project and Freycinet Lodge.
Legislation requires public consultation on changes to management plans, but not the entire project. The process to change the Freycinet National Park management plan has been seriously flawed.

The Government said “any proponent in the EOI process seeking approval for their project will need to comply with the management plan that is in place at the time” (Mercury, November 28).

Involving the public in development assessments is essential. Consultation is important for proponents and regulators to identify problems and address them with amendments or conditions. This can minimise conflict, but the Government is committed to an anti-consultation policy.

In December, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust and Tasmanian National Parks Association wrote to Minister Matthew Groom complaining about the lack of public consultation in the process. The reply from the Minister failed to mention the issue. A similar letter in October, 2014, got no reply.

With proposed changes to management plans, the Minister has said the process complies with legislative requirements, including in relation to consultation, but this is in doubt in relation to the process to amend the Freycinet management plan.

The Government made it clear changes to the plan were to facilitate the Freycinet Lodge expansion. A Parks and Wildlife Service consultation document released with proposed amendments justifies the changes in relation to facilitating the lodge expansion. But the effect of the amendment will be to allow the Minister to issue licences or leases for built accommodation, without limit, in the Coles Bay Visitor Services Zone, opening the entire area to new built accommodation. The existing plan prohibits new built accommodation outside existing leases and licences.
The PWS document failed to explain this would be the effect of changes and did not even include a map showing the visitor services zone. The impact of the change was hidden from the public in the consultation process.

The Minister tacitly agreed with my complaint by saying the proposed changes had been accurately stated. Maybe so, but the meaning or implication of them was not.
For a government to change a management plan in such a misleading way is contrary to the democratic principle that the public should be involved in proposals to change laws.
It is ironic the expansion of the lodge did not require such a dramatic change to the plan. Its expansion only required a change that allowed a small increase to its lease.
It is inappropriate to amend a management plan in response to an individual development. The fairest approach would have been for the PWS, in consultation with the tourism sector and public, to assess demand for new built accommodation in Coles Bay, the potential for it to be provided for outside and inside of the national park and the type of development that is acceptable in the park.

This process may result in recommendations to amend the plan to allow more built accommodation in the park. If successful, the Freycinet Lodge and other developers would be invited to make a proposal in a competitive tender process.

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