NATIONAL parks across the south-west could soon become home to new hotels and buildings after the state government cleared a bill for developers to move in.
Supporters argue the changes will unlock investment by extending leases from 21 to 99 years in national parks but Labor and the Greens warn the move will blemish the state’s pristine parks.
Tourism leaders welcomed the bill, saying it will trigger spending at icons such as the Twelve Apostles, the Lower Glenelg National Park and the Grampians.
Victoria Tourism Industry Council (VTIC) chief executive Dianne Smith said the sites wouldn’t be swallowed by convention centres and multi-storey complexes.
“In a place like the Port Campbell National Park, which is visited by two million people a year, you could have the tourist information centre expanded,” Ms Smith said.
“It could be that there are huts along the Great South Coast Walk. I think at Peak’s Trail in the Grampians there’s also a vision for that.
“We could have canoe spots along the Glenelg River serviced by high quality tourism infrastructure.”
About 37 per cent of national parks will stay off limits, while the environment minister will be given the final say on projects.
Victoria manages the parks that are national in name only.
Corangamite Shire mayor Chris O’Connor said the thin strip of national park along the Great Ocean Road meant many businesses had already opted to build nearby on private land.
“Generally we take up the opportunity on private land,” Cr O’Connor said.
“But some development can be done to actually enhance the environment. Buildings don’t necessarily have to be imposing.”
Federal Labor Corangamite MP Darren Cheeseman has weighed into the debate, describing the changes as “repugnant”.
“Talking to tourism operators, this is something they oppose,” Mr Cheeseman said.
“There’s plenty of private sector land for development. I don’t want to see hotels or convention centres built at the Twelve Apostles.”
Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber also attacked the announcement.
“Private developments will pose massive environmental risks to some of our important natural areas,” he said.
“The government knows that the best way to encourage tourism in parks while protecting precious ecosystems is to keep tourism development outside parks on nearby private land.”