Is the Noosa dream still alive and well? Sadly it’s fading for many residents, for others it’s already become a nightmare.
For decades the Noosa community worked towards a different future from most other coastal areas of South East Queensland. Environmental protection was pursued as the key to maintaining an enviable lifestyle and a sustainable local economy. That was the dream.
Avoiding big city problems and the symbols of cities during Noosa’s rapid growth phase was a major strategy towards achieving the agreed future. No high rise, no traffic lights, no parking meters and no endless commercial signage.
The logic was simple. Focus on the needs and wishes of residents for a relaxed lifestyle in a superior environment, both built and natural. Visitors would be attracted to share the experience, as would new working-from-home residents who could live where they chose. Both would contribute to a sustainable local economy.
The strategy was driven from the community, helped by a ‘Residents First’ culture that was hard-wired into the council organisation in the 1990s. Results were endorsed by the community at successive council elections.
There is now increasing community concern that many of the previous successes in achieving a sustainable quality lifestyle are being eroded. And not because of the covid virus.
Congestion on the streets, beaches and river is now with us most of the time. To add insult to injury, every ratepayer from Kin Kin to Peregian Beach is now paying for ‘free’ buses because of the traffic congestion from a ‘more is better’ tourism strategy.
Worse still, the neighbourhood amenity of many residents is being seriously degraded by the proliferation of short term accommodation (STA) approvals in inappropriate areas. For some residents, the dream has become a next-door nightmare.
There could even be more change on the way. There are serious discussions about paid parking as part of a traffic management ‘solution’. And about increasing dwelling densities in residential areas to ‘solve’ the problem caused by the recent STA ‘virus’ which has made permanent rental accommodation for many residents impossible.
So what’s the cause, why is the dream fading for so many?
Part of the answer lies with the forced amalgamation with Maroochy and Caloundra in 2008 to form the Sunshine Coast Regional Council. Putting residents first was not a priority of the regional council, and the Noosa Council culture was simply swamped by the sheer numbers from the big end of the Sunshine Coast.
The creation of a new Noosa Council in 2014 might have reversed the trend. But the decision by the Minister to allow the CEO of the regional council to determine which staff would transfer to the new Noosa Council ended that hope. More than half of the new Council staff were not residents of Noosa.
If residents’ comments are any guide, there is a widespread belief that those who live here now play second fiddle to business interests, many of them the interests of non-residents. It’s obvious to residents that there is little thinking or planning within Council about the best way forward to maintain resident quality of life. Despite the disaster of STA approvals in 2021, the first Council meeting of 2022 saw a number of our elected members vote against their professional staff recommendation to refuse yet another application.
This lack of direction could help explain the unprecedented loss of many good Council staff in 2021. When the elected Council doesn’t know what it’s doing, staff are left with no direction with both morale and performance suffering.
Then there’s Tourism Noosa. There has been disquiet in the community for many years that the never-ending push by Tourism Noosa for more and more visitors is one of the key factors in loss of amenity generally. The organisation was formed at a time when Noosa had very significant peaks and troughs in visitation. Both Council and Tourism Noosa aimed for a more even spread across the whole year.
That was over 20 years ago, and a lot has changed in that time. Can Tourism Noosa redefine its role towards quality instead of quantity before residents finally cry ‘enough’? Perhaps the current reorganisation of Tourism Noosa will result in a recognition that the current model is well past its use-by date. The result of inaction could be that both resident and visitor experiences will continue to deteriorate.
Somewhere we seem to have lost the plot and probably the valuable niche visitor market Noosa once had.
It’s obvious that our future is in limbo at present. Is our quality of life on the skids? Are we staring at more visitors, more events, and more congestion? Can we look forward to more new businesses established to cater for more visitors so no one is any better off? And more STAs invading residential areas and further displacing permanent tenants?
The disruption of print media as a business has almost ended serious journalism, and social media is not suited to serious community debate about complex issues like our future. Fragmentation of the voices of residents has left a vacuum that has been filled by business interests. Business will continue to lobby Council, as is their right. If residents want to be heard again, then broad community debate about a desirable future for Noosa is a must.
Council is a key player, but has no plan for the future direction of Noosa. It’s time for a resident plan for the future so that Council knows what’s expected by its resident community.
We are the people who employ our Council and our Councillors. Some need to be reminded of this.
For most residents, the dream is still intact even if a bit faded. But not for those residents who have had their reasonable expectations of a decent neighbourhood amenity shattered by STA approvals. Nor for those who cannot find a permanent residential rental because business interests have been prioritised over resident interests.
What’s been happening should be a wake-up call for residents. If we sleep in much longer, we could all wake up to a nightmare that threatens to replace our Noosa dream.