The idea of Noosa as a place where residential growth is thoughtfully restrained in a beautiful, protected environment is much more than just a pipedream. For more than 30 years it’s been a guiding principle that’s served us well. It has helped shape a Noosa Shire that borders on a giant coastal conurbation, but has thrived because it is different.
That dream, that principle, is now fading.
Increasing numbers of residents are dissatisfied with a worsening quality of life. Longer term residents remember the 1990s after we signed up for a journey seeking excellence in urban design and conservation, leading to economic and ecological sustainability. The simple economic proposition was that if Noosa developed as a great place to live, work and play, visitors would also be attracted to share a quality experience quite different from cities where most people live.
New residents would invest in new business, while others would take advantage of the developing digital communication revolution by living in Noosa but earning their income externally – an early version of ‘working from home’ called ‘telecommuting’. This vision for Noosa’s future depended on protecting and enhancing both the natural and built environment.
Noosa had no competitive advantage other than its natural environment. There had been an active environmental movement in Noosa since the 1960s, and by the 1980s there was a growing appreciation in the community that maintaining a superior environment was critical to our economic future and our lifestyle.
But there had been no council emphasis on developing a built environment that would be different and attractive to city dwellers. Nor any thought about how rapid urban development could eventually destroy the look and feel of Noosa, as well as its attractiveness as a destination.
All that had changed by the 1990s, and Noosa had become a no-go zone for ‘symbols of cities’ – traffic lights, high rise, signage pollution, parking meters, traffic congestion, high population density are just some examples. In other words, both land use planning and urban design principles had been introduced to ensure that the built environment remained low key as opposed to ‘in your face’.
Long-time residents may recall the first proposal for traffic lights in Noosa to ‘solve the problems at the Sunshine Beach end of the Noosa Junction business area’. Although it was strongly supported by the Council hierarchy at the time ‘because a roundabout would not work when traffic increased’, it was narrowly defeated in a Council vote. A roundabout is working very well 40 years later.
Council later developed a policy of planning and building a coastal road network that was designed to disperse the traffic as numbers increased so traffic lights could be avoided. The original Sunshine Motorway proposal that would have dumped all the Motorway traffic from the south straight into Noosa Heads was also defeated following strong community and council opposition.
As part of the vision for the future, the Noosa Plan was amended to cater only for an eventual population that could be accommodated without destroying the values and distinctive differences that underpinned quality of life as well as economic and environmental sustainability. Changes included the reduction of population densities and limiting future urban areas to sustainable levels. This reduced the potential Noosa population that previous planning had provided for, hence the term ‘population cap’.
For many years during and after this plan for the future was being implemented, the major guiding principle for Noosa Council was to always put residents’ interests first, ahead of those who wanted to use Noosa for their own benefit at the expense of residents.
Has the plan for our future been derailed? Do the interests of residents still come first? Does a plan for the future of Noosa actually exist anymore?
Part 2 in the next edition of Noosa Matters will start to look at the current state of play.