What can MWCC do to rescue its project?

2017 was a good year: the passing of the cablecar facilitation act, the refinement of the proposal and investor interest all buoyed the company’s hopes.

2018 was an annus horribilis. During the first half of the year opposition did not fade, but strengthened. Cascade wavered and then turned. Mid-year the Brewery hosted a large anti-cablecar rally and a fortnight later torpedoed MWCC’s Plan A. Simultaneously, the state government cancelled MWCCs site investigation permission. Scrambling at half-time, the MWCC proposed Plan B—a pathway across a Hobart city park, but the third quarter was worse. In September and again in October the Council said “No” to the use of their land for a cable car. The final quarter turned into a rout. The election—seen as an opportunity for the “overwhelming majority in favour” to elect a local council in Hobart that would see things their way—backfired. Voters elected an anti-cable car Council.

Highlighting this result is the new mayor, Anna Reynolds. In a long interview in Tas Weekend with Amanda Ducker, Reynolds contrasted “respectful” with “crass” development (with the cable car, at face value, seemingly in the latter category). Reynolds reasoned that the project was “asking too much of the Hobart landscape” and concluded that its major impact on such a significant natural feature was a deal-breaker. No Councillor screamed at that conclusion.

What bodes for 2019? The MWCC is silent on the question. Its most recent facebook posts are indicative of lassitude and the void: “Good luck to the finalists in the tourism awards” and “We’ve changed our profile photo”, but the Mountain Preservation Society has some options.

PR campaign splash

Hobrtians are now, thanks to the Mercury newspaper and the company’s own Official Details publication and website, well informed about the proposal. A renewed publicity campaign might help, but it would not be cheap (and money is now an issue with investor confidence bruised), but more significantly PR require something new: some breakthrough. That would require a Plan C. And Plan C would not only be less desirable, but would be an admission of defeat.

Lobby the Council

The MWCC will certainly be taking soundings, will be seeking opinions from all the newly elected aldermen, it must; but contrary to some pundits, the number of potential swinging votes is not enough to change the Council’s resolution against the development. And the Council is a very leaky boat. Nothing is private.

Rustle up Mr Big

Announcing someone with $50 million to lavish on the cablecar would certainly be encouraging, but … that good fortune seems even less likely at present without any approvals in place.

Lodge a Development Application

The MWCC says it will lodge an application soon, and it can undertake the flora and fauna survey it requested in order to facilitate that application, but the Application requires the data on site stability on multiple sites, and that requires permission from the state government and that permission does not appear to be forthcoming. And it would be opposed directly, on the ground, by opponents. If the state government was getting cold feet who could blame them? But even if permission is obtained, without the ability to utilise the roadway up McRobbies Gully the cableway is marooned. The suggestion put in the Mercury that the Council decision was “moot” was itself manifestly incorrect.

Seek Project of State Significance status

Many cablecar supporters have suggested the proponent seek Project of State Significance status. The appeal is in eliminating the Hobart City Council from the approval process, but this itself is risky. Firstly, the state government cannot be certain that it could get such a declaration through the parliament. But say they did, state significance, arguably, imposes higher standards on the project.

Resume the land

The MWCC could seek to have the Council land—so critical to its proposal— seized by the state government. Such forced resumptions are never liked. In this case, it would also be necessary to strip the land’s reserve status. It is a desperate measure that the treasurer has all but rejected.

* * *

To some, the cable car is practically defeated, and the lack of plausible throughways puts the MWCC in a perilous position. Desperate men in desperate times are at their most dangerous.

What would be preferable, surely, would be for the MWCC to reinvent itself. There are opportunities for development on the mountain. Think of something different and respectful. As Professor Lefroy suggested: start again.