Contentious luxury wilderness camp rejected by stressed councillors

A Tasmanian council has blocked a contentious tourism development in world heritage-listed wilderness.

The eco-tourism camp proposal for Hall’s Island on Lake Malbena won approval from the federal government in August, against the recommendation of three expert advisory bodies.

It involves flying tourists by helicopter in and out of a permanent camp, to be built on the island within the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. The site would cater for up to six visitors at a time looking to bushwalk, kayak and learn about the area’s cultural history during their stay.

At a long and heated public meeting on Tuesday, the Central Highlands Council rejected the proposal from operator Wild Drake.

[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”15046″ align=”left”]Some councillors spoke with anger about being forced to make the final decision, with one saying she felt let down by other levels of government and another saying the weight of the decision had made him physically ill.

The Wilderness Society acting campaign manager Tom Allen said the decision was a victory for people power, pointing to the 1,340 objections lodged against the proposal.

“Literally thousands of Tasmanians have stepped up to protect world heritage wilderness from a profiteering government sponsoring exploitative practices,” he said.

But Tasmanian premier Will Hodgman, who says the state is “open for business” for development proposals on public land, argues the camp had been subjected to rigorous commonwealth assessment. His government has flagged the likelihood of an appeal.

Environmentalists say the decision is a win against the push for more commercial tourism in national parks and the vast Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which covers about one-fifth of the island.

The National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council, The Australian Heritage Council and The Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Council all advised against the development.

Wild Drake owner Daniel Hackett claims his employees were bullied during the application process, receiving abusive late-night phone calls and messages.

The tourism operator was shouted down by an interjector as he spoke during the council meeting.

Tom Allen said he sympathised with Hackett and the Central Highlands councillors. “They and the wider community are victims of substandard planning laws that don’t work,” he said.

Despite the council’s decision, the Wilderness Society and Tasmanian Greens plan to continue with court action seeking to overturn the federal government’s approval of the proposal.

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