The author thanks Hobart City Councillor Bill Harvey for conveying his deep understanding of the Wellington Park Management Plan
The legality of the cable car’s base station is almost as shaky as its foundations.
The Wellington Park Management Plan divides the Park into zones. To fulfill the Park’s highest Objective, each zone permits only specified uses. In the Recreation Zone, for example, park seating, toilets, information plaques, lookouts and trails are Permitted (“P”). Fire trails, vehicle parking and ‘food services’, on the other hand, are Discretionary (“D”). Visitor accommodation, camping, park management offices and “Tourist Operations”, i.e. “land specifically to attract tourists, visitor centres, interpretation centres, viewing shelters or ancillary uses including limited associated retail” are “X”: Prohibited.
Oops! The MWCC wants to start their tourist operation in a zone where Tourist Operations are not permitted.
Residents Opposed to the Cable Car (ROCC) argue that the Base Station is obviously a Tourist Operation. Its entire raison d’être is to attract tourists. Its base station is a visitor centre (a “hub” is the word MWCC uses) with a visitor services administration block. ROCC claims all that is “X”-ed by the Zoning Plan. Construction would be illegal.
MWCC statements broadly confirm ROCC’s characterisation. Its Official Details booklet portrays the locale as attractive to tourism: “a lush, tranquil … clearing” and describes many on-site attractions such as rustic mountain hut ruins and a secret waterfall. It proposes to create its “gateway” to the Park there. Also envisaged is a gift shop, viewing platforms, a ticket office and mountain bike hire. On the other hand, in a separate list the MWCC explains that the building has two storeys and the underbelly houses a power sub-station, a motor room, a back-up generator and battery storage.
Under the Management Plan, “distributing goods or passengers" is designated a “Transport Depot” and that has a Discretionary use status. Phew! Problem solved?
The MWCC declined to respond to ROCC’s claims, instead pleading for all to wait and see “how [the base station] will address the planning scheme broadly”. Scrambling to respond to the Mercury’s ZONING SNAG FLAGGED headline, the state government could only quote the management plan: a Transport Depot was a discretionary use. Both ignored ROCC’s essential point. ROCC spokesperson Ted Cutlan branded their obfuscation “laughable”.
Is the Base Station a Tourist Operation, a Transport Depot or both? It is both. The Base Station is a multi-function facility. Below: Transport Depot. Above: Tourist Operation. Beyond: Passenger Distribution. Where the passenger distribution ends and the Tourist Operation begins may be questioned and what the Management Plan’s framing intention was may be wondered at. Must the Base Station be moved outside the Recreation Zone? Would an alteration of the Management Plan resolve the issue?
Altering the Management Plan has superficial appeal. Simply change one letter (“X”) “Prohibited” to “P” for Permitted. But changing this one thing would open the Zone to other tourist developments, fundamentally altering the Zone’s character and purpose. Working through that change would require a complex and lengthy reassessment process and, ultimately, the approval of a revision of the governing Act by both houses of parliament. Degree of difficulty: Severe.
Moving the Base Station again would be embarrassing and expensive for the MWCC, but … hang on, move the Base Station to where? There may be alternative sites, but it is not known where they are and it is extremely unlikely they would be better. Degree of difficulty: Catastrophic.
Alternatively, the MWCC could abandon the gift shop, viewing platforms, 2-level car park, Ranger Station and mountain bike hire (all Prohibited); argue that selling Transportation (tickets) in a Transport Depot is not unreasonable; and then hope for a Discretionary approval. Degree of difficulty: Extremely High.
Why? The Springs and The Pinnacle are zoned Recreation too, but both have special status as “principal activity nodes” where “Specific Area Plans” permit “a greater range of activities and development”. Conversely, discretionary leeway in the rest of the Recreation Zone is commensurably lower.
Further, to be approved, any Discretionary use must be in harmony with the entire management plan. The Plan requires developments to reduce noise, not compromise existing uses, maintain the Park’s values and so on. These issues, potentially, may be mitigated, but the cable car scheme’s inimical nature remains.
The Management Plan’s first chapter honours the Park’s 10 000 years of Aboriginal occupation, sings a hymn to the “icon” kunanyi, list a stupendous array of rare and remarkable plant and animal inhabitants, celebrates the park’s essential wild nature, pure waters and aesthetic beauty, and then concludes: “The Park is more than a biophysical reserve, more than its historical artefacts. It is, in fact, part of the community’s ‘extended sense of self’. It is inextricably linked into the psyche and perhaps the being of the community that lives in its shadow.” (page 24). These values are of the utmost importance to the Park and its managers. Their protection is the paramount Objective of the Management Plan. The provision for a cable car comes 100 pages later, and reads like a sticky note on the last page of the Bible, hastily and ineffectually appended.
The only way for a cable car to get up the mountain is for the government to compulsorily acquire a Council Reserve and dismember it, somehow nullify the central Objective of the Management Plan, and then into the stone flesh of the Park and the living psyche of Hobart brutally cauterise the scheme.
The MWCC, it appears, is already subtly re-positioning itself. In an interview on ABC Radio (December 4 at 1:38:00) the chair of the MWCC, Chris Oldfield, managed to go ten minutes without using the word Tourist once. Oldfield is the new chair. A line-manager and former diplomat, he replaces Jude Franks, still spruiked for 30 years experience in tourism—but that experience, apparently, is no longer critical.