Monday, September 22, 2014

Just what scale of development do we really need at the Springs?

I’m on record, from well before getting on Council, as unhappy about various development proposals at The Springs and on kunanyi/Mt Wellington. 

I’m also on record as being in favour of development.  In particular, yes to interpretation, yes to track improvement, yes so upgraded toilets and picnicking shelters, and yes to sorting out just how much of the Springs should be a car park, and just how much should be set aside as opportunities for tourism experiences that are inclusive of public use of the Springs.

No, I’ve said, no, to the large scale accommodation/resort/conference/restaurant styles of development.  And for darn good reason.  Living on the Mountain at Fern Tree for twenty years sharpened my appreciation for how easy it is to spoil a natural place.

So distracted have we all been by various cable car and resort proposals for kuyanyi/Mt Wellington, by continuous reviews of the Wellington Park Management Trust’s Management Plan, that, really, we’ve often missed opportunities to capture appropriately scaled development that is both the benefit of the bio-reserve that is kunanyi/Mt Wellington, as well as all the people that want to go there. 

For twelve years nothing was done while Council chased the ephemera of a so-called eco-resort development then a cafe/restaurant development while the existing public facilities deteriorated and car parking started to clog the Springs out.

What’s really important?  Does anyone disagree that we want to see conservation of kunanyi/Mt Wellington’s natural and cultural values?  That we want to manage any risks to visitors from the natural events of fire, snow and all-round unpleasant windy weather that happens most days? That there is the need for public facilities that promote the public use of The Springs?  That there is a need for permanent visitor information and interpretation, and some small scale food and beverage provision?  That there is the need for meeting points for small scale guiding and interpretive activities?  That there needs to be a traffic management plan for cars, buses and bicycles?

Call me optimistic but I doubt anyone would disagree with these things are needed when you encourage people to visit – it remains one of the top visitation places in Tasmania.

And why do people travel up the road?  Some would say, to get to the top, to see the view.  Others because it’s amazing that such a natural place still exists within such close proximity to a city.  Others, because it’s Hobart’s playground, catering for just about all ages, given the variety of tracks and mountaineering challenges, the opportunities for snow play a few days of the year, the amazingly beautiful places to just stop and look, to picnic, to listen to the birds and watch the clouds scudding across.

Yet it’s not just a place to visit and play.  It’s part of Hobart’s water catchment.  It’s a valuable bio-reserve of plants and animals and a geological wonder to boot.  It’s the most distinctive landscape that sings in the heart of so many Tasmanians.  And it’s a public place that lives in the memories of so many because, for such a wild place, the top of the Mountain, and the flat areas of The Springs, are so accessible for families to visit.

Is it any wonder then that privatising the most publicly accessible parts of kunanyi/Mt Wellington creates controversy?  It’s inevitable that when private corporations are leased parts of wild places, the public, unless they pay, are excluded from what was previously freely enjoyed by all.

And it saddens me that what we’ll see into the future, under the guise of “eco-tourism”, is the loss of these accessible flat areas at the Springs.  Unlike the top of the Mountain where 60 km/h winds are the norm for much of the year, and the wind chill factor is a distinct deterrent to staying out of doors, The Springs area is relatively sheltered and provides some wonderful places that are easily accessible for families.

Worse still, to facilitate the scale of development that developers require to get a return on capital investment, so much of the flat places will end up as carparks to service the cafe/interpretation centre/restaurant/conference rooms/eco-lodges.  All these have been proposed in the past of various sizes, and I suspect there will be more again. 

And perhaps the bit that very few people think about, is that the flat open areas of The Springs are scarce habitat for marsupials, birds, lizards, insects, invertebrates.  With the loss of the grasslands and “grooming” of the surrounding bush, where will their food then come from?  With the noise and lights of developments, what impact then on their lifecycles and the web of life that The Springs area supports, and consequent flow-on into the rest of the Wellington Reserve?

And ask yourself this, how do we replace the loss of the flat snow play areas once the accessible areas of The Springs are built out and leased into private hands?   Where will ordinary families freely picnic in the summer months once the flat areas are turned into carparks and hived off into private development affordable only for the well-heeled tourist?

Yes, maintaining the currently low level, modest facilities for visitors on the Mountain costs money and we could spend a bit more in improvements and design.  But seriously, if most of the public, flat, accessible areas of The Springs are lost to private development, where then is the public benefit? 

Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart

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