GREENS upper house MP Sue Pennicuik has gone in to bat for anti-gondola chairlift lobby group Save Our Seat.
In Parliament last week, Ms Pennicuik called on state environment minister Lisa Neville “not to sign the lease for the [Arthurs Seat gondola chairlift] project without further consideration of its merits and the extreme bushfire risks, including issues of potential liability for the government”.
The MP asked Ms Neville to “meet with Save Our Seat representatives at her earliest convenience; … consult with Minister for Emergency Services, the Essential Services Commission and the Country Fire Authority about bushfire risks; and … consult with the local community about the amenity impacts of the project and the risk to life from bushfire”.
Ms Pennicuik said SOS was “seeking a smaller-scale, more sympathetic design” from Arthurs Seat Skylift as well as “more reasonable operating hours”.
Skylift head Simon McKeon said the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal had backed the proposal late last year after an eight-day hearing. “It concluded every issue had been thoroughly canvassed as it affected the shire council decision [of mid-2014],” he said.
Ms Pennicuik appeared to have “never bothered to engage with anyone other than SOS … so she has got this rather warped view of the project”.
“I have supported the Greens on many occasions and they’ve been doing a very important job nationally supporting CSIRO during a very tough year or two,” he said. (Mr McKeon is chairman of CSIRO, which has had its budget cut by the Abbott government.)
He defended Skylift’s plan to build the top tower on the summit of Arthurs Seat.
He said SOS had not agreed with Park Victoria’s decision to have the top station on the flatter, cleared area at the top. “But as far as the environment is concerned, this means the clearing that would be required is a fraction of what would be required if SOS got their way and relocated our top station on to the northern side of the road.
“The bushfire regulations nowadays require very substantial clearing where there is a significant slope. And on top of that, our top station would be visible to many who look up at the mountain from Dromana, Safety Beach, etc. Our top station will be essentially hidden.”
Mr McKeon said the Greens MP “hasn’t said a word about the elderly, those with a disability and the many young families who were unable to get their kids on the old lift. Parks Victoria was strongly motivated to make accessibility a feature of the lift. It meant the cost of establishing it was much greater and probably meant that many rival operators were turned off because it was not going to be an easy way to make a return. We’re motivated by a lot of things other than profit.”
Ms Pennicuik told the Parliament the project “relies on significant work – car parking, toilets and defendable space clearing – being carried out by Parks Victoria outside the Skylift lease area, which will have adverse impacts on native vegetation and landscapes”.
“VCAT decided that it did not have the jurisdiction to look at these works. The tribunal was therefore unable to carry out a full assessment of the actual impacts of this proposal,” she said.
“Apart from one short meeting with SOS, Parks Victoria has not conducted any consultations, discussions, information sessions or similar to respond to concerns raised by the local community or the wider Victorian community.”
VCAT had “confirmed that no feasibility study, no market research, no benefit-cost analysis or return-on-investment analysis has been conducted by Parks Victoria”.
Ms Pennicuik said it was “unclear from the VCAT decision whether the bushfire emergency plan will need to be signed off by fire authorities before building commences or before use commences. This document is critical and should be finalised before any work begins”.
Mr McKeon said the gondola lift had wide support on the southern peninsula. “This isn’t McDonalds in Tecoma.”
Lisa Neville said the gondola lift was a development “that has been underway for many years”.
“Although there are some concerns raised by community members, it does have broad community support,” she said.
“VCAT has already determined that this project will proceed. I have strongly encouraged the developer to try and address the local community’s concerns.”
- Save Our Seat’s “Gondola information night” is at 7-9pm Wednesday 4 March, Red Hill Recreation Reserve pavilion, Arthurs Seat Rd, Red Hill. Details: 0423 225 182, saveourseat.org, facebook/saveourseat.com