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State govt 'disappointed not to realise original vision' of eco-cabins proposal

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UPDATED: The state government has abandoned plans to build a host of cabins in a national park, after significant community backlash.

The Cooloola Great Walk Eco-Tourism Project was set to include multiple eco-cabins at five sites along the 102km Cooloola Great Walk in the Great Sandy National Park.

It had been heralded as a non-invasive boost to tourism in the region.

But a Department of Tourism and Sport spokesperson said the project has essentially been cast aside.

“The state can confirm that the Queensland Ecotourism Trails project to enhance the Cooloola Great Walk with eco-accommodation and experiences will not be progressing at this time,” they told Sunshine Coast News on Friday.

“As all negotiations are commercial in confidence, we cannot provide further details.

A section of the Cooloola Great Walk. Picture: Shutterstock.

“However, we all know the world, particularly the tourism and construction sectors, has changed greatly since 2019 when the state sought proposals from the private sector to develop sustainable accommodation and experiences along this popular, pre-existing trail in the iconic Great Sandy National Park.

“The Queensland Government has worked closely with the preferred proponent and Traditional Owners, the Kabi Kabi People, over the past four years to take this project forward.

“The state is disappointed not to realise the original vision, but our commitment to protecting and showcasing the distinctive beauty and ecology of the Great Sandy National Park and the unique tourism opportunity it presents to the region and Traditional Owners remains strong.

“The postcard perfect 102km of the Cooloola Great Walk and its campsites from Noosa North Shore to Rainbow Beach remain an iconic hiking and camping experience for Queenslanders and visitors from across Australia and the world – this doesn’t change.”

The proposal was scrapped after significant community backlash, including from environmental protection group Keep Cooloola Cool.

The member for Noosa, independent Sandy Bolton, also urged the state government to reconsider the project after conducting a survey that revealed the majority of people in the region opposed the proposal.

Keep Cooloola Cool welcomed the state government’s decision.

KCC president Matthew Noffke said the proposal had consistently failed to provide adequate detail upon critical operational functions and impact management.

“The project didn’t stack up either ecologically, socially, technically or even economically”, he said.

“This cessation notice by DES puts this ongoing agony to rest for everyone.

“It is long overdue, but very welcome.”

He hoped a parliamentary petition would lead to an amendment of the Nature Conservation Act to prevent similar proposals.

“With just five per cent of the state protected as national park, a major global extinction event underway, and Queensland hosting a world-leading rate of habitat-clearance, this type of commercial predation upon critical public conservation assets is not acceptable”, he said.

EARLIER: Opponents of proposed accommodation in a national park have made more moves to stymie the project, amid revelations most people in the region don’t want it.

Member for Noosa Sandy Bolton and conservation group Keep Cooloola Cool have called on the state government to scrap an initiative to build eco-cabins in the Great Sandy National Park.

They have also called for an amendment to the Nature Conservation Act, to stave off similar proposals in the future.

The Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project includes plans for six cabins at three sites and 10 cabins at two sites along an existing 102km trail.

The sites would also include communal structures such as kitchens and dining facilities, boardwalks and service infrastructure like power, water and wastewater.

The site plans and structure designs are being developed by eco-cabin provider CABN, but are yet to be finalised.

The proposed accommodation sites along the Cooloola Great Walk. Picture: DES.

The state government and CABN have stressed that the project would have minimal impact on the environment and reap substantial tourism benefits.

But Ms Bolton said most people in her shire were opposed to the idea.

“After a long journey by the community, we conducted a survey of Noosa electorate residents, which saw a greater majority against any form of new eco-accommodation sites in national parks,” she said.

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit a Letter to the Editor at Sunshine Coast News via news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au. You must include your name and suburb.

Ms Bolton urged a revision of the proposal and called on the government to adjust a key piece of environmental legislation to ensure similar concepts are blocked in years to come.

“We requested of government that this project transition to one that does not involve commercial built structures, as well for an amendment to the Nature Conservation Act to remove the possibility of similar proposals in the future,” she said.

Keep Cooloola Cool spokesperson Matthew Noffke said commercial developments had no place in national parks.

“The proposal has been in the planning stages for over five years now: it has clearly failed environmentally and commercially, and does not have community support,” he said.

“It is time that the state government announce that they are abandoning these inappropriate proposals in national parks.”

The group has staged a number of actions to discourage the project, including at Double Island Point, where a site with 10 cabins is planned.

Concerned locals express their opposition to the cabins proposal.

Mr Noffke also urged the state government to adjust the Nature Conservation Act, which has some provisions for development within national parks.

“We are calling on the state government to remove the ecotourism objectives that were inserted into the act,” he said.

“These ecotourism objectives are allowing and encouraging degrading commercial ecotourism proposals in Queensland national parks.”

Mr Noffke said there had been no talks between the group and the government regarding their concerns, but they had “successful communications” with Ms Bolton.

He also said the Noosa Parks Association had changed its stance on the project.

“We are delighted that Noosa’s leading conservation group has decided to finally advocate for the environmental protection of the national park,” he said.

A Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said the project was still in its relative infancy and many aspects of it were still in progress.

“It is a long-term endeavour,” they said.

Luxury cabins are proposed for the headland at Double Island Point. Picture: Shutterstock

“Stakeholder engagement regarding this proposal has been ongoing since 2018 through community meetings, surveys, letters and emails.

“People can still provide feedback to the department by emailing ecofacilities@des.qld.gov.au.

“The department is yet to receive a final detailed proposal from CABN regarding the location and design of the walker accommodation sites.

“Once we have received this final proposal, the next step will be to assess the plans against the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

“The project still requires several key environmental approvals to be granted, including local government development approvals by relevant councils.

“Environmental impact assessments play significant roles in ensuring the project is implemented the right way.”

The DES told Sunshine Coast News last year that site selection “included ecological impacts, cultural heritage impacts, safety impacts and tourism potential” and the cabins would need to meet strict requirements.

The DES also told SCN that an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the Kabi Kabi First Nations People for the project was registered last year, following a community authorisation meeting in 2022, when the Kabi Kabi community voted in favour of the ILUA.

A basic campsite on the Cooloola Great Walk, which can take five days to traverse. Picture: Shutterstock

A CABN spokesperson had little to say on the matter.

“Whilst we work through the project and particulars, I will respectfully decline to provide a comment,” they said.

But CABN told SCN last year that the project would have significant benefits.

“The walking experience will offer guests a unique opportunity to engage and immerse themselves in the iconic Cooloola region, learning about the Indigenous, cultural significance of the land through guided walking tours,” they said.

“The low-footprint, low-impact project has numerous benefits for the Great Sandy National Park, including contributing to the park’s long-term environmental, cultural and financial wellbeing.”

Meanwhile, Noosa Council told SCN it “does not have a comment to make on this” yet.

“It’s largely a state-driven proposal and no development application has been lodged with council for consideration,” they said.

SCN reached out to the Noosa Parks Association but had not received a response.

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