The Noosa Plan takes a popular coffee break

THERE are three certainties in life: death, taxes – and change.

We tend to resist change because it represents the unknown, something we can’t control, and it takes us out of our comfort zones.

In every local government area there is a town plan, or planning scheme, which acts as the guide book for the use of land in its jurisdiction.

It is updated every 10 years or so – and is usually partially out of date by the time the ink is dry.

Why? Change.

Years in the making, the most recent Noosa Plan is the 2020 version – replacing the 2006 plan and released shortly before the last council election – and simultaneously to Covid-19 hitting the community, which in the following two years would enact many changes in community attitudes.

Like any bureaucratic document – and this one took two years – the wording in the Plan is fairly rigid; it has to be to ensure it encompasses as many actual and potential circumstances.

Another reason is that one of the biggest concerns a council can have is to enact a change to the Plan that sets an uncontrollable or unpredictable precedent.

After all, one minor allowance for one development applicant can become the precedent for following developers to legally say “Well, you did it for them, so you have to do it for us”, and the associated Planning and Environment Court (P&E) costs that might accompany it.

The Noosa Plan, like all other plans, is open to some interpretation – because things change.

In the last few years, local government has been rocked by the massive interest in short-term accommodation (STAs) by both users and providers, for example. 

But there isn’t a huge amount of detail about it in the Noosa Plan because its global popularity was starting to peak just as the Plan came into being.

An apparent fault-line in the Plan concerning STAs is the word “consistent” wreaking havoc among councillors and staff.

Short-term accommodation is “consistent” with medium density housing within the tourist accommodation area – but with more than 5000 STA’s and counting, staff are seeking to put the “full” sign out by reusing further applications, while half the councillors are concerned that such refusals will end up in P&E court appeals – as indeed four are at time of writing.

There is no perfect ‘plan’, and councils can’t simply turn their back on, for example, new technology which might streamline a particular business activity but which, in turn, may impact on another part of the community (Uber, anyone?).

It is up to staff and councillors to interpret the Plan in a way that allows a degree of flexibility, while at the same time maintaining the core values of its integrity – and avoid a soaring legal bill at the same time.

It’s a balancing act, and not always an easy one. 

But a recent positive outcome was where a hinterland business was operating both a form of roadside stall while selling coffee and off-premises-cooked pies and cakes, all locally supplied. The coffee itself was roasted a mere three properties away.

The Plan, as it stood, would have seen the business reduced to the point where it was commercially unviable. 

But Covid has had a substantial impact on many people living in the hinterland, resulting in isolation of many people, particularly older ones, an impact reflected across all communities.

This business, however, was based inside a rural residential property, with a large open frontage allowing safe off-road parking, and engendered a “meeting place” atmosphere which has not only provided a sanctuary for those suffering loneliness and worse, it has fostered friendships and new business contacts across a wide spectrum of residents.

It has also, as originally designed, become a place for many small crop growers to offer their seasonal supplies for sale, and proving very popular.

The business has even attracted residential care buses, allowing their charges to enjoy an open-air cuppa in perfect safety, with easy access to and from their transport.

Importantly, with no nearby residences, and only the council tip opposite, the ‘impact’ on the community was all one-way – beneficial.

Councillors recognised that tourism in the hinterland is not to be underestimated. And it has opened a door to a possible new way of supporting tourism and communities in the hinterland, where new business is created rather than torn away from existing ones.

The Noosa Plan has strong support in the Noosa Shire community. It acknowledges a ‘triple-bottom-line’ approach – balancing social, economy and environment concerns equally – and its ability to grow with the community, without loss of integrity, is achievable.


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