Congestion has played on an endless loop in Noosa for years. Everyone acknowledges the problem, and everyone has a solution – except those that matter, Noosa Councillors.
To deflect criticism Councillors point to free buses; to park and ride; changed street parking arrangements – more space for scooters and bikes; more ‘Ls’ and ‘T’s’ for parking bays; more yellow lines; and increased compliance. They point to bike lanes to encourage riders. They modified Noosa Parade for an express lane – then added garden boxes that stymie the plan.
Frustrated by Councillor inaction, Council staff in August 2021 planned a timed parking trial in hotspots in Little Cove and Noosa Sound. But when a specious change.org poll organised by part-time residents opposed it, Councillors pulled the plug without scrutinising the objectors, many living elsewhere. Now timed parking is an option back on the table.
In September Mayor Stewart and councillor Lorentson jointly announced a 40 kph speed limit for 1.5km of beach adjacent to Teewah Village – sensible in itself. But with no mention of beach vehicle numbers and Moorindil St traffic jams from the ferry to Tewantin, the announcement looked a lot like another deflection from the real issue – congestion.
All this prompts memory of the Bill Clinton campaign quip – “It’s the economy stupid” – created to focus voter attention. As day tripper numbers inexorably climb, would a Noosa election campaign slogan – “It’s the congestion stupid” – keep candidate attention focussed?
There are plenty of congestion solutions internationally – the latest in Venice where day-trippers will be charged 5 Euro as they enter the city to manage tourist flows. Meanwhile Noosa residents devise ‘work-around arrangements’ to avoid peak-time gridlock and jams, with more than 8 in 10 surveyed saying parking and congestion are disruptive.
Now the draft Destination Management Plan raises the prospect of congestion-busting options, including:
- Hastings St and Gympie Tce to be pedestrian-only zones at peak times;
- Park Road access to the National Park by bus only at peak times;
- timed-parking with variable rates determined by real-time space availability;
- changing the focus and number of major events;
- A booking system for access to the Shire’s iconic landscapes e.g. Noosa National Park, Noosa North Shore;
- Refocusing Noosa promotions to ‘regenerative tourism’.
Change is vital because congestion is about to get worse. With the wave of Deputy Premier Stephen Miles’ pen, the widely envied population cap that balances Noosa’s carrying capacity and environmental protection is at risk as he proposes a 35 per cent jump in Noosa’s population.
Congestion is not on the scale of Venice’s visitor management issues, or even Melbourne’s traffic jams. But the Southeast Queensland plan will take us to another level. As well as busting Noosa’s population cap, it provides for an extra 2m people living within a couple of hours drive.
The March 2024 council election gives Noosa rate-payers the opportunity to demand that ‘wanna-be’ Councillors declare where they stand on these and other congestion-busting initiatives.
Pre-Covid data reveals we’re already at peak parking capacity.
- In 2018 more than two thirds of the tourists visiting Noosa came by car.
- Yet Council surveys of parking availability on 3 January and on 17 February 2019 showed 100 per cent of the 2600 car parks in the main tourism precincts were occupied.
- Now there’s an average 2300 day-trippers, the majority coming by car. How many day-trippers will 2m more people living in the near vicinity generate? And how will they be managed?
Pre-Covid attitudes are also revealing.
- A 2019 report* showed more than 8 in 10 residents said tourism disrupted their lives, particularly traffic congestion.
- More than half the businesses surveyed said traffic congestion/delays/road closures were the biggest negatives to operating in Noosa; and four in ten nominated parking.
- Visitors nominated beaches and the national park as the two main reasons for coming to Noosa and said parking and public transport were the least positive elements of their visit experience.
In 2019, then-Mayor Tony Wellington said Noosa was on the verge of over-tourism with residents pushing back. His plain speaking caused a furore and spokespersons for the tourist and business community, despite every second business pointing to compromised returns because of traffic congestion, said Wellington was unduly influenced by ‘squeaky wheels’. More recently he wrote that Noosa’s success meant it was being loved to death. Councillors’ challenge is to avoid that demise.
In the run up to the 2024 election residents and businesses, similarly impacted and similarly frustrated, should demand that Councillor-aspirants declare what they will do about visitor management if elected next March: A Venice day-trippers’ levy? Automated car levies? Number-plate recognition and timed parking? The aspirational options included in the Destination Marketing draft? Or something else? And these ‘wanna-be’ councillors should be constantly reminded: “It’s the congestion stupid.” There can be no side-stepping the issue any longer.
*Report to Tourism Noosa and Noosa Council, 2019, by C-Changes sustainable solutions.