DATE: 28 JULY 2017
The Right Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP,
Premier of Queensland,
PO Box 15185
City East QLD 4002
Request to over-ride votes on items 7 & 8 in Mareeba Shire Council meeting 19 July 2017
Friends of the Earth FNQ was founded in Kuranda and takes a special interest in conserving the unique environment and culture of the Kuranda region.
One of us met you briefly after the public meeting in Cairns earlier this month. We thank you for indicating a personal interest in Kuranda’s environment during the meeting, and for requesting additional information about our concerns.
This letter follows an earlier (April 4th 2017) letter from FoE FNQ, which was an attempt to alert you to the many negatives of the ‘Kur-World’ “Eco-resort” proposal by Macao-based developer Ken Lee.
Part of our objection to ‘Kur-World’, from the outset, has been a strong suspicion that this first-time developer, Mr Ken Lee, whose background appears to be in the casino industry and has no track as a developer, is driven purely by short-term financial gain, notwithstanding his PR activities- and that the true raison d’être of the ‘Kur-World’ proposal is not to create a genuine “eco-anything” venture, but to make fast cash via a massive land subdivision. In short, we fear the land in question, which is located in the Myola Valley and has extraordinarily high ecological values, would become degraded to provide a developer with speculative gain. As this land is zoned “rural”, extensive subdivision can only occur by changing or circumventing the current planning Mareeba Shire Council planning scheme.
The latest twist to the “Kur-World” saga appears to confirm our suspicion. It’s clear that Mr Lee is hedging his bets, and in addition to continuing to promote the “Kur-World” proposal within the rubric of a State Government integrated assessment process, he lodged an application directly to Council for permission to apply to subdivide his property into 196 parcels of land under an old and superseded planning scheme for Mareeba Shire.
At the Mareeba Shire Council meeting on 19th July, ignoring last minute protests from Kuranda residents (we have no representative who sits on Council) and refusing permission for objectors to speak at the meeting, Council approved Mr Lee’s request, along with another, smaller but remarkably similar subdivision proposal on adjacent land proposed by another developer. This was done without discussion or debate.
Mr Lee has therefore been given permission by Council to prepare a subdivision application under the old (2004) Mareeba Shire Planning Scheme in parallel with the integrated assessment process overseen by the Office of State Development. His determination to make windfall subdivision profits at any cost out of his speculative land purchase is now crystal clear. He appears indifferent to the impact either proposal would have on the Kuranda landscape, the remarkable environmental values of the Myola Valley and the unique cultural heritage and lifestyle of the Kuranda community.
Mr Lee, of course, is a businessman – and his wish to make speculative gains is not unanticipated. What is more surprising – and to us, totally unacceptable – is the connivance of Mareeba Shire Council in his schemes and Council’s complete unresponsiveness to the concerns of the Kuranda community.
There is a long history to this. Plans to develop Myola as an urban precinct became a major issue a decade ago. Strong opposition from Kuranda residents – and the intrinsic merits of protecting the Myola Valley – eventually prompted the Bligh Government to intervene and over-ride MSC’s decision to urbanise Myola via a new regional plan (FNQ 2031).
In 2008, the MSC was abolished and merged into a larger Tablelands Regional Council which also included the southern tablelands. Kuranda residents, who’d long felt disempowered within MSC, overwhelmingly embraced these changes and between 2008 and 2012 participated enthusiastically in the TRC’s new planning process. Unfortunately,. It was a process that never ran to completion..
Most Kuranda folk were appalled when, in 2012 the Newman Government backed a campaign led by the development lobby to de-amalgamate the united TRC. In a referendum over de-amalgamation, held in November 2013, Kuranda residents voted 4:1 against de-amalgamation, but de-amalgamation prevailed by a small margin within the MSC area as a whole. Characteristically, conservation-oriented Kuranda residents had been outgunned by a Mareeba-based development lobby.
In 2013, during the first election campaign for a resuscitated MSC, Mayoral candidate Tom Gilmore gave Friends of the Earth a written promise that there would be further community consultation before finalising the MSC’s new planning scheme. However, after the election, the mayor reneged on his promise and insisted, in 2015, that a new draft planning scheme be sent direct to State Government for approval. That new Shire Plan was finally approved in June 2016.
Then, within less than a month, it was announced that Ken Lee’s proposal for a huge new development (Kur-World), which was contrary to the new planning scheme, would be assessed by State Government. Once again, Kuranda residents felt marginalised and at a disadvantage. Apparently there had been no time for consultation with the community before finalising the latest Shire plan, yet within weeks a developer could seek to vary it radically by by-passing Council..
Since then, we’ve been told by our Councillors that during the State Government integrated assessment process for Kur-World, direct contact with Councillors over the future of Myola is inappropriate. Kuranda conservationists’ letters to Councillors have been unanswered, in some cases unread.
Now, to cap it all – around the time of your visit to Cairns this month – we learnt the developer has directly approached Council for approval to prepare a subdivision application under the OLD (2004) Mareeba Shire Plan. Yesterday, Council approved that latest request by Mr Lee. Presumably he intends to take up State time and resources assessing his “Kur-World” proposal while the MSC simultaneously considers his subdivision application. It’s understandable why he prefers a bet each way – but from our perspective this is neither fair nor reasonable.
If the subdivision applications recently permitted by Council ever go ahead, it would be the largest subdivision in Kuranda’s history. On the other hand, if the ‘Kur-World’ proposal goes ahead, that would roughly double Kuranda’s population and change its character forever. We strongly believe both proposals must be rejected.
When we wrote to you earlier in the year, it was to ask that your government rejects Me Lee’s ‘Kur-World’ proposal on numerous environmental, planning, heritage and cultural grounds.
We now ask that you act swiftly to over-ride the July 19th vote in Council – and refuse both Ken Lee and other developers permission to submit development applications under the OLD (2004) Mareeba Shire Plan. That old plan is grossly outdated (13 years old) and clearly no longer reflects the aspirations of the Kuranda community; in fact, it never did! Some doubt whether this stratagem to push through subdivision applications under the old shire plan is even legal, but legal or not, if the stratagem succeeds it would constitute a gross abuse of due process and good planning.
Kuranda residents tend to believe in stronger, not weaker, environmental protection. We have a uniquely rich wildlife, landscape and cultural heritage. Conserving these values is the basis for preserving World Heritage Wet Tropics ecological significance, our international “Village in the Rainforest” tourism industry and our quality of life. We do not share the short-term, money-first interests of those in Council who make decisions about our planning.
We believe State Government should support Kuranda’s conservation-oriented values. Governments sometimes struggle to gain community acceptance for important environmental objectives. In this case, we ask only that the State Government ensures compliance with the basic principles enshrined in the Local Government Act – and makes decisions congruent with the Government’s stated objective to conserve the State biodiversity.
We therefore ask for your help to intervene with Mareeba Shire Council and over-ride its latest highly undemocratic and anti-environment decisions.
We look forward to your reply.
Syd Walker for FoE FNQ
Cc: Deputy Premier of Queensland
“The Council must assess any application lodged under the superseded planning scheme against the State Planning Policy and the Far North Queensland Regional Plan 2009−2031.”