OPPONENTS of the planned Arthurs Seat Skylift gondola plan a last-ditch appeal to the state planning tribunal to minimise the impact it will have on the precinct’s heritage landscape.
They will ask the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to clarify when the project’s emergency management and bushfire plans must be released – before construction starts or before the ride begins operating.
A second matter the opponents, members of Save Our Seat (SOS), will raise with VCAT is the gondola colour that shire councillors approved at their meeting on 22 June.
SOS spokeswoman Alison Laird described the bright blue permitted for the gondolas as “completely inappropriate” and “a bizarre choice more suited to commercial signage”.
SOS has been told it can take the matters back to VCAT for a further hearing.
A further issue is the fate of trees growing in the 40-metre wide gondola corridor. A VCAT condition requires Skylift to provide a plan showing trees along the route and “nominating whether each tree is to be retained, removed, lopped or pruned”.
A shire planner conceded on 3 July that the council “had yet to be provided with a copy of this plan”, which will be taken to the council when received.
Controversy over the corridor has flared again. Skylift initially said only 20 metres of the 40 metre width would be needed, but this changed when it was revealed underground facilities would need additional clearing.
SOS said it was vital VCAT and the community were fully informed about the details before final approval was granted.
The group said VCAT and the community should see the emergency management plan before construction starts, since the Skylift’s summit station would become a refuge not only for gondola patrons but also for tourists and residents in the event of bushfire.
It has been estimated that a fire starting at the base of Arthurs Seat could reach the summit in seven minutes or less – about the time Skylift told VCAT it would take to evacuate the 40 eight-passenger gondolas.
The gondola colour was approved after a heated council debate on 22 June. Councillors were given sparse details of what colour Skylift proposed. Its details of colours and textures, included in an attachment to the shire meeting agenda, merely described the colour as “blue”.
Skylift had originally sought to paint the gondolas bright red. Councillors voted on 22 April to change this to shades of green, grey or blue to complement the landscape.
Some councillors apparently were unaware of the colour and textures details, with one asking planning officers, “What is the colour?” Councillors received no colour information other than small retouched photos of the gondolas, produced on a colour photocopier or available online. No other colour samples were produced.
VCAT had stated in a permit condition that the colour must “complement the natural landscape to the satisfaction of the responsible authority” – that is, the council. The vote was tied five-all, then approved on the casting vote of the mayor, Cr Bev Colomb. Cr Graham Pittock was absent.
A state government report, Design Guidelines for Nature-based Tourism, deals with use of materials and colours in natural settings. They are “strong contributors to the sensory experience … [and should be chosen to] reflect the surrounding vegetation and geology,” it states.
“Where imported or artificial materials … are required, colours and tones that closely match those found in the landscape setting should be used.
“The reflectivity, brightness and contrast of [such] materials with their surroundings should be minimised,” to reduce structures’ “visual impact and intrusion into the experience of place”.
The colour shown in the council documents more closely resembles Process Cyan than Pantone Process Blue, which councillors were told during the 22 June meeting was the chosen gondola colour.
The Pantone website contains 434 shades of “blue”, only two of which were close to the colour shown on the gondola photos.
Kylie Greer of SOS said: “We were shocked that councillors were not provided with crystal clear information about the gondola colour. It is appalling that a big project in such a prominent and sensitive heritage landscape could be approved despite an element as important as colour not being made clear to councillors.”
Ms Laird said the description of the gondola colour as “blue” should have prompted shire planners to seek a more detailed colour description to put to councillors. “This could have been easily resolved before the meeting,” she said. “Councillors could then have been provided with proper samples of the colour they were being asked to approve.”
The colour issue raises a further point, SOS says – whether the gondolas will carry advertising.
The planners’ report to councillors stated that advertising on the gondolas’ bases, as shown on overseas examples, “is not being proposed”. Directly below this was an image of two gondolas with prominent advertising on the sides.