On the surface it seemed like one of those little local stories that would fade away with the next tide. It revolves around a lovely little family park that’s been used increasingly as a carpark for visitors to Hastings Street just 100 metres away. During the height of the car-based congestion of the Covid crisis, this extended from an Easter and Christmas time measure to include all school holidays and long weekends.
One or two Council staffers thought it was a good idea to recommend that this extra ‘Covid emergency’ use of the Lions Park should continue, and that’s when it all got a bit ugly.
The problem is a familiar one – once you’ve handed over something of value, even temporarily, it gets very hard to take it back.
In this case, some businesses on Hastings Street wanted every car park possible, whenever possible, and their allies became the Tewantin Noosa Lions Club that for many years has run the car park at Christmas and Easter, relying on its steady stream of cash for its charitable work.
Neither was much concerned about the big picture…how it looks for a place like Noosa to hand over precious waterfront parkland for cars, most of them arriving from well outside our shire.
The Lions Club set to work collecting signatures for a petition to Council, one written in a way that was about as one-sided as a Queensland State of Origin crowd.
Abolishing Lions Park parking will severely impact trade and jobs in the Hastings Street and surrounding area and will result in more cars driving around trying to find parking.From the Lions Club petition
In fact, this wasn’t about Council “abolishing Lions park parking”, just taking it back to the Christmas/Easter period that operated pre-covid.
The club said 2,315 people had signed its petition, although its online petition attracted just six signatures.
Another online poll on the Residents For Noosa Facebook page was equally unscientific, but this played to a different crowd and got a very different result.
The four blokes on Council known broadly as the ‘residents and environment’ faction decided that turning public parks into car parks was a bad signal to be sending out as Noosa tries half-heartedly to reduce its traffic congestion.
Right on cue, the Noosa Chamber of Commerce chimed in to support the Mayor’s ‘LNP/Business faction’ in demanding that the “temporarily extended” tourist car parking carry on indefinitely.
Noosa Today gave its front page to Chamber president Ralph Rogers declaring the chamber strongly supported the continuation of the paid car parking during all holiday periods.
“This is negative demand flow management and provides no support to the local economy and a very important Noosa charity, and offers no new solution to the parking and traffic issues in the Hastings Street precinct.
Deputy Mayor Frank Wilkie was quick to point out that “as agreed with the community in September 2020, use of Lions Park for car parking on long weekends and school holidays was only ever intended as a temporary measure during COVID.”
And he continued:
The Lions Park will continue to be used for car parking, mostly by visitors from outside the shire, next Christmas and Easter.
During that time, there will be public consultation, possibly as part of the Destination Management Plan, to determine what we collectively want residents and visitors to experience in peak periods in our shire.
How we use and respect our green spaces into the future will be a part of that question.Cr Frank Wilkie
What some saw as distinctly ‘anti-environment” lobbying from the Chamber was not new. Last year they were also squarely behind the Mayor’s (and her Council faction’s) attack on the much-lauded Oyster Reef project to help filter and improve the Noosa River, one of many such projects around the country.
That attack, still up on the Chamber’s website, had questions being asked around Noosa about why this should be any of the Chamber’s business.
At about the same time, Noosa Council made the unusual decision to hand over $30,000 of ratepayers’ money to help the Chamber with their ‘communications’. (This was very different from the usual Council grants for specific community and environment projects with clear public benefit.)
Whatever you may think of all that, the bag of ratepayers’ cash handed over to the struggling business lobby group may prove to be a double-edged sword.
This Council largesse, by its very nature, leaves the Chamber far more open to public scrutiny from the ratepayers now supporting them and wondering what they’re getting for their money.
Noosa Council has also offered to help the Lions club find a less contentious way of raising money, one that doesn’t involve removing precious parkland.
Meanwhile, there are hints that Mayor Stewart and her inseparable campaign partner Cr. Amelia Lorentson see this as an issue worth pursuing. It will be interesting to see how they attempt to spin this into something other than an anti-environment gift to Hastings Street and a bad look for an already overly car dependent Noosa.