An urgent call has gone out for ACT and NSW residents to pay attention to plans for intensive development in Kosciuszko National Park.
The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) are calling on members, supporters and the general public to join them in opposing the NSW Government’s proposals for a massive expansion of commercial activities within the 6900-square-kilometre expanse, which forms the state’s largest national park.
The proposed changes are outlined in the Snowy Mountains Special Activation Precinct Masterplan and proposed amendments to the Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management, which are on public exhibition until 23 August, 2021.*
The development includes plans to increase overnight accommodation from 11,000 to 15,000 beds in highly fire-prone areas of the park; allowing helicopter flights onto ski fields; building new and expanded car parks; and allowing four-wheel-drive vehicles onto iconic walking tracks.
Development proposals for two specific precincts in Kosciuszko National Park – Yarrangobilly and Currango – are further detailed in precinct plans.
The Yarrangobilly Caves precinct masterplan includes proposals to upgrade the 1901 wing of Caves House to the standard of the recently restored 1917 wing; improve access and amenity of the thermal pool; develop a new visitors’ centre and cafe; a cultural heritage trail; and additional cottages and eco cabins.
The NPA said several of the changes – including increasing tour numbers – show little or no appreciation for the sensitivity of the karst environment.
The most startling proposal, they said, is to construct a series of bathhouses around the existing springs in the form of Japanese onsens – bathhouses traditionally located around hot thermal springs.
The NPA said the waters at Yarrangobilly are far colder than needed for onsens so the plans propose raising the water temperature using large-scale gas heaters.
“Installing a high-emissions facility in a national park setting is entirely at odds with community expectations,” said the NPA.
The masterplan for Currango Homestead includes proposals to undertake minor interior modifications to the homestead to separate it into two wings, improve the kitchens and furnishings, and develop a new caretaker’s cottage and two additional three-bedroom cottages.
The work is expected to be administered by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s Department of Regional NSW.
National parks are gazetted for the protection of natural landscapes, ecosystems and their natural and cultural values, and are currently entrusted to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service for their management and conservation.
NPA executive officer Gary Dunnett said the potential conflict in moving Kosciuszko National Park from NSW Minister for Energy and the Environment Matt Kean and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service into the hands of the deputy premier and his department is disturbing.
Mr Dunnett said the proposed development is reckless and overturns more than 40 years of careful planning and management of the park.
He added that national parks are areas of land protected because of their unspoilt landscapes, outstanding or representative ecosystems, Australian plants and animals, and places of natural and cultural significance.
Mr Dunnett said the plans essentially treat Kosciuszko National Park as a commodity and get the balance between nature protection and recreation completely wrong.
“The NSW Government’s message is that none of their proposals would hurt Kosciuszko National Park,” he said.
“But the masterplan puts Kosciuszko National Park up for sale and treats our precious national parks as nothing more than a private lot ready for development.”
Mr Dunnett said only a few weeks ago that the premier said national parks contribute more than $18 billion annually to the NSW economy through visitation and jobs.
“Why would you risk compromising that contribution through excessive development?” asked Mr Dunnett. “The Snowy is already under siege from bushfires, a feral horse plague, and habitat destruction for the Snowy 2.0 hydro project.
“Kosciuszko needs protection and recovery, not reckless development.”
NCC chief executive Chris Gambian agreed, saying the proposed changes would turn Kosciuszko National Park into a development site and cash cow for tourism operators.
“Frankly, it’s obscene,” he said. “Kosciusko is one of the oldest national parks in the state, created in 1967 by a Coalition government that recognised the need to protect its fragile ecosystems for future generations.”
Mr Gambian said the NCC is calling on the NSW Coalition to honour its legacy by maintaining the highest level of protection for Kosciuszko National Park, and keep the cap on development.
The National Parks Association of NSW and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW have launched a campaign asking the public to provide feedback opposing the developments, with a deadline for submissions of 28 August, 2021.
*Amended to correct date.