THE company behind a $583 million revamp of Lindeman Island is concerned about public misconceptions over the development proposed.
Just one week into a six-week consultation period for the Lindeman Great Barrier Reef Resort Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ) has called for the Queensland Government to reject the development proposal outright, saying it involves revoking 36.9 hectares of national park, and potentially destabilises the future of other national parks.
Last Saturday, the State Development Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the draft EIS was available for public consultation, and the NPAQ – a not-for-profit group that advocates for the conservation of national parks – has already aired their objections.
The current state of the Beach Resort at Lindeman Island post Cyclone Debbie.
But White Horse Australia Lindeman chief executive Paul Nyholt said it was vital the public understood that the majority of the land – purchased from the former Club Med Resort in 2012 after previous owners closed it – had already been used commercially and still housed infrastructure from the late 1990s.
Under the proposed new perpetual leasehold deal, it would no longer be recognised officially as national park land, he explained.
“What’s misleading, and what many people may not realise, is that the resort would be developed on the old Club Med site, not pristine park land,” Mr Nyholt said.
“The land that we control now, which is the old Club Med site, is a combination of long-term lease and perpetual leasehold.”
An artists impression of the proposed resort redevelopment on Lindeman Island.
Mr Nyholt said the completion of the EIS at Lindeman Island had taken more than two years and was based on an assessment of the island’s ecological, cultural and scenic values.
“Our team walked over the entire site to make sure that each building is located in an area that has the lowest possible environmental impact,” he said.
Plans for Lindeman Island include a six-star spa resort, two additional five-star resorts, two tourist villa precincts, a village with bars, restaurants and shops, lagoon pools and an upgrade to the existing airstrip.
Currently on the land in question by the NPAQ there is a disused former resort golf course, sewage treatment infrastructure, storage facilities and water supply dam.
Mr Nyholt said Whitehorse Australia was trying to promote ecotourism and create sustainable tourism on the island.
“We’ll have the Great Barrier Reef education centre on the island which will allow visitors to appreciate the values of nature around them,” he said.
“It’s obviously very important when you’re in the Barrier Reef and on the island and, to the best of our abilities, we want to be as eco-sustainable as possible in our development.”
Mr Nyholt said the contentious 36.9 hectares included 5.9 hectares which would be maintained as part of a nature refuge agreement with the National Parks department.
Lindeman Island – how the resort would look from the sea.
“We’re not going to touch this land because we recognise it’s significant national park land,” he said, adding there were 30 ‘glamping’ sites proposed for a separate site within the national park.
And Mr Nyholt said developers actually wanted to give 34.7 hectares of current perpetual and long-term leasehold back to National Parks, which would reduce the overall resort site from 138.17 hectares to 113.78 hectares.
“We will have less land than we started with. It’s helpful for people to know we’re also handing land back … we don’t plan to utilise it, so why hold it,” he said.
Mr Nyholt said White Horse would commit to maintaining walking trails and visitor infrastructure, the rehabilitation of disturbed habitats including the eradication of pest plants, renewable energy production such as solar and diesel hybrid, incorporation of water conservation devices and improvements to stormwater management.
He said the Draft Queensland Ecotourism Plan encouraged further expansion of “offerings in the national park in a very sensitive way”.
“The whole way through this process with our consultants and government departments, we’ve been careful to have the lowest possible environmental impact. We’ve marked out where each villa might be, and moved them if there was at-risk type vegetation. We’ve been trying to ensure we’re setting high standards in sustainable tourism, and that’s why it’s important people realise that the area we’re trying to convert is land that’s part of the existing resort and has been used commercially,” he said.
Nonetheless, the Brisbane-based NPAQ said yesterday the ramifications of a decision to approve the resort would be “huge”.
NPAQ Conservation Officer Laura Hahn said protected areas were under siege, yet their preservation was essential, because they were critical to conserving our “unique biodiversity and saving threatened species in decline”.
“Once you start cutting off bits of national park here and there, it opens the door to widespread acceptance of development in protected areas. This is the thin edge of the wedge,” she said.
Ms Hahn said the multi-million dollar value of the Lindeman site was directly linked to the existence of the adjacent national park, “yet the resort expansion would undermine the values upon which the national park was declared”.
She said abandoned resorts needed attention, but she did not believe this proposal met the “significant conservation benefit” test necessary for revocation of National Park land.
“Our assessment is there will be a significant negative impact,” she said, adding overall, the intensity of the resort would be “significantly” greater than during Club Med’s ownership.
“The long-term lease, having been issued in the 1980s, is due to expire soon – usually meaning the land would be returned and rehabilitated,” she said.
“The proposal to put numerous villas around the golf course, directly adjacent to the proposed new national park boundary, provides no buffer to the park. All of that is in addition to substantial new development on the existing perpetual lease site.”
Ms Hahn said the NPAQ supported ecotourism where conservation was the primary objective, the integrity of environmental values were not undermined and the public was not adversely affected through restricting their access to the protected area’s natural values or imposing additional costs.
“(But) we believe the ‘glamping’ component will effectively privatise that section of the national park,” she said.
“(And) if this revocation of national park is permitted, it sends a signal to the international community that Queensland’s national parks are not fully protected.”
A spokesperson for the Coordinator-General said all submissions would be considered after the consultation period closed and the Coordinator-General would decide if he had sufficient information to produce an evaluation report.
All interested parties are encouraged to have their say at www.statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/lindeman