Australia State’s Park Development Plans Cause Controversy
Recent relaxation of rules against private commercial development in Australian national parks in the state of Victoria are calling attention again to the ongoing plethora of park controversies Down Under.
Hard economic times have emboldened opponents of all kinds of national park “protections.” This time, the southeastern state of Victoria, is embarking on ''one of the greatest tourism reforms that any state government is going to see in a long time,'' says Australian Tourism Minister Louise Asher.
An article by Georgina Wilkins and Farrah Tomazin on the Stock & Land regional rural news site said, restrictions against such development “were removed nearly two weeks ago when the government announced it would finally permit what other states have allowed for years: private development in national parks.”
The piece featured a small town adjacent to Victoria's Grampians National Park named Halls Gap, a spot torn by controversy over whether generally higher end luxury development in the park would spark added visitation or detract from a place where, “'The unique thing about the Grampians is that you can walk all day and not see anybody, ” says Dot Hoffmann, a member of conservation group Friends of Grampians Gariwerd. The story said “she feared a large resort in the park could strain local infrastructure and put the remoteness of the Grampians at risk.”
In Victoria, conceptual plans for several developments in national parks had already been discussed with councils, years ago in some cases, the article said. “Developer James Baillie, son-in-law of entrepreneur and Australian tourism ambassador Dick Smith, said his company, Baillie Lodges ... welcomed the decision to open parks up to nature-based tourism. ‘There is little point locking parks up; better to work towards having amazing iconic experiences at every level,’ Mr Baillie said.”
In 2011, the Victoria state government recommended that “one way to prevent the state's $16 billion tourism industry from stagnating would be to ease planning restrictions and regulations governing land use, including in national parks.”
Australian Tourism Minister Louise Asher, said, ''Nature-based tourism is huge, it's growing worldwide and Victoria needs to keep up. What this is about is getting high-value international visitors to come to our national parks and, instead of going back to a hotel in Melbourne, to stay there.” Asher was previously Victoria’s Minister for Small Business and Minister for Tourism.
Most visitors to Victoria's Grampians National Park seem to come out for the day from nearby major cities and prefer the more luxurious urban accommodations over the RV campgrounds and low-key lodging in the rural area of the park.
The Stock & Land article also quoted Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief Dianne Smith. “National parks have always been afforded legal protection in a bid to preserve their conservation value.” Now, says Smith, “the private sector has been '’given the key to unlock the door'’ to real investment.”
“Environmentalists see the shift as the thin edge of the wedge, by a Liberal-National government that already has a patchy record,” the article said, pointing out “cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park; scrapping the state's climate change target; restrictions on wind farms.”
Quoting Victorian National Parks Association president Matt Ruchel, the piece said “the government had yet to provide substantial evidence about the economic benefits of allowing private development within parks. He remains unconvinced by Ms Asher's suggestion that developers could be encouraged to contribute to the environment as a condition of approval. ‘Even then, you end up with this issue of commercialisation skewing the priorities of park management,’ he said. ‘We don't want to get into a situation where development is driving management objectives.’”
“Proponents, however, point to interstate examples of ‘sensible development’ to show there's no cause for alarm.”
The article pointed to Tourism Victoria figures to say that national parks were a major component of tourism’s economic impact—with “33 million visits ... made to public land managed by Parks Victoria in 2008-09. Three of the state's national parks - Port Campbell, Wilsons Promontory and the Grampians - generate a total of $481 million a year. The problem is, most international visitors who attend national parks are usually day-trippers, staying at hotels in Melbourne, rather than contributing to the regional economy.”
Top Five National Parks—Two Different Nations
Articles featuring the “Top Fives” and “Top Tens” of anything are always popular and last week two publications set out to tout the “Top Five” national parks in their respective nations, Britain and Malaysia.
Here’s a brief rundown and referral to the original articles for anyone planning a trip to either country’s parks.
The UKs TNT Magazine cited the “red depths of the Grand Canyon” and “the creaking glaciers of New Zealand’s Fjordland” to say “you might expect Britain’s modest wilderness to be an uneven match for world heavyweights.” But “explore the length of this small island (about 600 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats) and you’ll find rugged peaks, rushing waterfalls and sweeping forests enough to spark flutters in your chest.”
Britain’s Top Five—
Their UK Top Five starts with Scotland’s Cairngorms, “Britain’s largest—is perhaps most impressive. Snow-coated mountains ring a serene spread of still, clear lochs and thick Caledonian pine forest. Five of Scotland’s six highest peaks are found here and the 4528sqkm of land couldn’t be better suited to outdoors action.” Skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer are part of the appeal.
The story touts the the Cairngorms as “a lifestyle as much as it is an amazing photo opportunity – and most who get a taste of Cairngorms life have a tough time trying to leave.” There are a “remnants of Celt and Pict settlements from as far back as the 10th century ... and what would a Scot landscape be without a few crumbling castles? Don’t leave Britain without seeing the Cairngorms – otherwise you’ve not really seen Britain at all.”
The rest of the top five best include the Norfolk Broads (“quaint England at its picture-postcard best”), the Lake District (Britain's second largest park, with “England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, and its longest lake, Windermere”), Snowdonia in Wales (“the highest point in the British Isles outside Scotland”), and the humble-appearing Peak District (“beauty without bells and whistles; no highest mountains or longest lakes,” but “acres of green hills and valleys spread out in the very definition of English idyll.”).
Malaysia’s Top Five
Calling Malaysia the “most biologically wealthy real estate on Earth,” an article by Mike Aquino in AsianCorrespondent.com undertakes a tour of the five best.
At number one, Taman Negara is, “Malaysia’s largest national park, stretching over an area of 4,343 km2 and spanning three states. The park’s indigenous flora and fauna belong to one of the world’s oldest and most diverse ecosystems.” The article recommends the Mutiara Taman Negara resort and another highlight, “the world’s longest canopy walkway, allows tourists to get up close and personal with wildlife.”
Niah National Park on Sarawak boasts a network of caves that sheltered the first known human communities in Southeast Asia.
Kinabalu Park “contains Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia, ... 4,095 metres.”
Penang National Park, claims Aquino, is “the smallest national park in the world,” but it “manages to cram plenty of wildlife and geographical goodness into its 2,563 hectares,” including 140 species of mammals.”
Endau–Rompin National Park is last on the list, but its “many trails ... skirt a series of scenic waterfalls and some of peninsular Malaysia’s most beautiful vistas.”