Environmental experts are casting doubt on the wisdom of plans to build a new multimillion-dollar caravan park in the small WA coastal town of Lancelin, an area much loved by grey nomads.
A new report from the Wetlands Research Association has found that the proposed location is right on top of wetlands formed in dune hollows, a feature only found at six sites across WA. It has discovered grasslands that are listed as critically endangered and protected under federal law.
Critics say that building a new caravan park on top of a pristine patch of critically endangered vegetation would threaten the very reason tourists come to this state.
With the downturn in the mining industry there has been a massively renewed focus put tourism in the west and the major new park at Lancelin was seen as a key part of the strategy.
Back in 2012, a Tourism WA-commissioned report identified Lancelin, Broome and Exmouth as “extreme priorities” for new caravan parks.
Shire of Gingin Shire chief executive Jeremy Edwards has told WA News that the park, about eight hectares in size, would probably be a $15 to $20 million project and the most expensive piece of infrastructure ever developed in Lancelin. It is argued that any smaller proposal would threaten commercial viability.
However, environmentalists have a different view. While Professor Hans Lambers acknowledges that tourism is critical to WA’s future wealth, he says there are plenty of alternatives.
“There is certainly space for caravan parks, for tourism, but you don’t want it in a pristine area with a threatened ecological community,” he told WA News. “That would threaten the very environment the tourists are coming to see … there is plenty of cleared land for any facility.”
But Shire of Gingin President, Michael Aspinall, says caravans are currently driving into Lancelin and doing a U-turn when they find there is nowhere to stay. He insists that ‘business as usual’ is not an option.
He has previously said the Shire had provided residents with “every reassurance” that environmental issues would be considered and that the affected areas could be managed.
Meanwhile, the Department of Planning has confirmed receipt of an updated environmental report with additional information about a “threatened ecological community”. It will considering the new information and will make a recommendation to the Minister “in coming months”.