|Community Meeting at Ferny Creek Hall|
I have laryngitis which according to one very kind and wise neighbour is 'my friend' tonight! How right she is. I have just returned from a community consultation in Ferny Creek to hear the property developer Adam Garrisson and restaurateur partner Shannon Bennet present their proposal to revive Burnham Beeches (BB) to the local community. You can read more about BB (and Shannon and Adam) here
BB is right opposite Sherbrooke Forest, approximately 40km east of Melbourne at an altitude of 300m. It forms part of a national park, and is home to the tallest flowering plant in the world - the Mountain Ash. Tourists flock here to enjoy the cooler climate, walk the many trails and admire the natural beauty of the fauna and flora, which is in abundance (or so it appears to the naked untrained eye).
Moves are afoot (again) to restore Burnham Beeches
, a now derelict and abandoned building formerly belonging to the Aspro king - Alfred Nicholas.
Pity we didn't have any Aspirins handy tonight - even home brand would have done it! The community meeting I witnessed turned into a missed opportunity by the developers to actually consult and inspire some modicum of community support to revive Burnham Beeches and its (contentious) grounds, and do so in an environmentally sensitive way. Confronted with (mostly) articulate and constructive comments from community members, the developers' panacea of choice was to offer to discuss matters over a cup of coffee.
Substantial information would have made a bigger difference:
1) Disclosure - make it accessible- the developers appear to have chosen a planning process which essentially involves engaging in community consultation upfront, and once a 'final' plan has been agreed on, the community will have no more say or avenues for objection to the plan. Assuming this is in fact the case, precise and accessible information becomes vital. To leave the community adrift between a Councillor who could not explain the process and a shrugging developer saying we submitted everything to the Council, is ludicrous in the age of the internet. Easily accessible information on a website (without commercially sensitive information) would have been a better platform for starting this dialogue.
2) Pictures -
I was astounded that the developers, who by their own admission have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this project so far, could not see it fit to light up the screen behind them at least with the tiny jpeg of the master plan which I found here
. They were completely upstaged by one articulate Mr PhD candidate, whose presentation left me with visions of Owls, rats, wallabies and Lyrebirds, fearing extinction and taking the next Puffing Billy out of here if this goes ahead.
3) Mini-village or just more beds? There was huge contention about the number of units the developer is likely to build (in addition to the hotel rooms in BB) and whether these constituted 'dwellings', would in fact be available for on-sale by an investor. It is common to fund property developments through the use of quasi 'time-share' schemes, most often using a managed investment structure. Often these schemes involve only the right to occupy a premise and no clear title, and no ability to occupy exclusively. More information on this would have been very useful.
4) experience in environmentally sensitive areas-
Mr Garrison's experience in reviving historic derelict buildings is formidable. However, BB is located literally on the doorstep of a National Park and also provides an environmental corridor for native fauna (thanks Mr PhD candidate!). And while sixsenses.com
looks to offer inviting hospitality experiences, some in remote locations, which one is similar in conditions to BB, when considering Sherbrooke Forest and an Australian community around it?
5) community benefits - the 's' word: much use was made tonight of the 'sustainability' concept. How the grounds for the Piggery are currently sustainable re-using most of their waste, how the hotel cannot be financially sustainable if additional units are not built, how the development would create local jobs - even career paths for the community. Yet nobody really addressed the sustainability for the environment and the community, ostensibly the 'people' represented in the room tonight. Sadly we did not hear any detail from experts about the expected environmental footprint of the plan and how this would be mitigated, nor the pressure this will place on available water supply and discharge. Mr Bennett said that his cafe served 700 people the other day and the hotel could have capacity for 1,750. I guess this is comparable provided you don't expect the additional 1,050 to shower or use the loo too much - just like in the cafe?! The Council was equally unprepared for this evening. Assuming that it stands to gain additional rate payer revenue if the proposed development went ahead, I would be curious to understand how that revenue will be applied for the benefit of affected communities in the hills, in the form of roads and other necessary infrastructure to manage the additional 1,750 visitors per day.