I suspect that if you could eavesdrop on just about any ‘where are we headed’ conversation around Noosa, you would hear concern and maybe some questions about whether our local leadership is up to the task that confronts it.
Overcrowding and congestion in coastal Noosa’s ‘hot spots’ is already eroding resident and visitor satisfaction and environmental values, particularly during peak holiday periods.
With State government approved plans for another one million people to be living within an hour’s (bumper-to-bumper) drive of Noosa within twenty years, near year-round overcrowding and congestion across much of Noosa Shire is all but inevitable, unless Noosa Council acts decisively now.
In short, Noosa Council is facing a day-tripper tsunami, which it is ill-prepared to cope with.
Noosa Council recently decided to form a Project Control Group (PCG) to formulate a Destination Management Plan to ensure Noosa is “a well-managed and sustainable destination for future generations to enjoy”. Unfortunately this process risks becoming as shambolic as its recent attempts to cobble together strategies to cope with short term accommodation, loss of neighbourhood amenity, social housing, public transport, and river management.
In each case Noosa Council talks a self-serving big game, while ineffectually kicking the can down the road.
Unless Noosa Council reinvents the way it thinks and operates, Noosa’s residents, visitors, local businesses and the environment will all be the losers.
Some of the Noosa region’s most iconic natural environments are already suffering from over-tourism during peak periods. The Headland Section of Noosa National Park, Teewah Beach between the Noosa River mouth and Double Island Point, and the Upper Noosa River and Cooloola Sand Patch, are the most obvious cases in point.
Not only is Noosa Shire facing a day-tripper tsunami over the next twenty years, within that timeframe most of the natural environmental treasures that make Noosa such a magnet for both residents and visitors will be under new management.
Noosa’s string of linked National Parks – Noosa, Tewantin and Cooloola, plus many of its beaches and much of its Noosa River and Lakes system, will become co-managed, then jointly managed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science/QPWS, and Kabi Kabi Corporation. Such a change in management will reflect what is already occurring across all Australian states and territories including Queensland.
Until relatively recently, Noosa’s winning destination management strategy was to keep Noosa great for locals by;
- working cooperatively with QPWS to expand the Noosa-Cooloola National Park estate;
- avoiding big city symbols like high rise, traffic lights and paid parking;
- introducing town planning controls to encourage a Noosa built environment that sat lightly within an expanded national park estate, and which managed population numbers by a development cap;
- and by tolerating congestion as a means of discouraging overcrowding during peaks.
Which way forward?
The recent short term accommodation revolution, combined with the emerging day-tripper tourism tsunami, has rendered the ‘keep making Noosa great for locals and it will be great for visitors’ strategy still relevant, but requiring additional legs.
Visitor numbers are going to have to be managed as well, starting with management of over-tourism in visitor hotspots, where negative impacts on residential lifestyle and the environment are on the increase, and being noticed by concerned residents.
Noosa Council has decided to anchor the project’s governance in a Project Control Group (PCG) comprising: Noosa Mayor (Chairperson); Crs Lorentson and Stockwell; the Chairman of Tourism Noosa; the CEO of Earthcheck; the CEO of Noosa Council; Director of Environment and Sustainable Development, Noosa Council; and up to three additional community members with relevant community and industry experience as well as qualifications.
Getting Destination Management right for Noosa is now hugely important. It is to be hoped that the PCG is up to the task.
There is a danger that Noosa Council hubris, evident in its recent over-reaching and hence flawed approaches to short term accommodation, social housing, public transport, and river management, will contaminate its approach to Destination Management. Across Noosa, when it comes to our Council we are hearing the words “all talk and little delivery”.
And there is a danger that ongoing naked self-interest by a number of Tourism Noosa Board members and a network of individual Tourism Noosa members will pressure the Chairman of Tourism Noosa to focus on getting Noosa Council to continue funding it to the tune of around $2.5M per annum, despite Council now taking over responsibility for Destination Management. Any yielding by the PCG to such pressure will be at the expense of every ratepayer across Noosa Shire, as every ratepayer is currently funding Tourism Noosa to the tune of $2.5M a year.
So what might progress look like?
First up, through genuine stakeholder consultation, development of a MOU or a ‘social contract’ or ‘social compact’ between key stakeholders: residents, visitors, Noosa Council, QPWS, Kabi Kabi Corporation, Tourism Noosa, and incorporated business groups, resident groups, and environment groups.
This initial MOU should focus on ends not means, on the outcomes the key stakeholders agree to mutually pursue.
Then, and only then, should mutually supported means, or strategies, be explored between key stakeholders.
Time will tell if the Noosa of today is able to climb mountains as high as those previously conquered by past generations of Noosa Council, resident, tourism and environmental leaders.