We have operated Water Gums Retreat on the Barrington River outside Gloucester since we purpose-built the house as visitor accommodation in the late 1990s.
It’s a rental microbusiness we created as part of our long-term retirement plan and it is now providing an important part of our retirement income.
I was vaguely aware that MidCoast Council was developing a “rural strategy” but didn’t think it would affect us greatly: perhaps only insofar as it might relate to lot sizes and building entitlements etc. So I was startled to find, when I actually read through the draft document, that it proposed far-reaching changes to rules affecting visitor accommodation and tourism of which we had received no warning whatsoever.
The changes, found deep in the long draft document, propose to outlaw unhosted visitor accommodation on rural and environmental zoned land across the entire MidCoast LGA. Only properties able to provide live-in caretakers or managers would be permitted to operate. It appears to suggest that this is based on safety considerations and then goes on to recommend that primitive camping be the predominant form of visitor accommodation in the affected zonings.
My inquiries among other operators in the tourism sector managed to discover nobody who had heard of this proposal. Everybody I mentioned it to was horrified at the implications and amazed that no tourism-specific consultation appeared to have occurred. And this just days before final submissions were due.
I contacted the council and was somewhat reassured that it was “only a draft” and that our property would be protected by “existing use rights”. Nevertheless, I made a submission objecting to the proposal.
Our submission says in part:
In our opinion the proposed ban on unhosted visitor accommodation on rural land and the proposal to overwhelmingly favour primitive camping in rural zonings may prove counterproductive to council’s broad aim of encouraging a diverse visitor accommodation offering.
Over the decades during which we have operated, the vast majority of our visitors have been people (mostly from Sydney and Newcastle, but also from regional centres and overseas) who would not have been interested in primitive camping. For the most part our visitors tend to want to enjoy the wildlife, seclusion and private relaxation our property offers without sacrificing their creature comforts. They want comfortable beds, internet access, good kitchen and bathroom facilities, air-conditioning and other homelike comforts while still having direct and immediate access to the rural and bushland setting. We are also certain that the vast majority of these visitors would not appreciate being subjected to the presence of live-in or on-site supervisors.
It is also clear to us that our visitors spend freely in Gloucester and Barrington and are always seeking interesting experiences in the surrounding area. We believe that visitors of the type that come to Water Gums spend more money in the area than typical campers might.
Whilst the references in the draft strategy to safety are noted, it is also important to acknowledge that town and village settings are not immune from extreme weather events and, on balance, rural or bushland settings are arguably no less safe.
If it became mandatory for us to provide a live-in or on-site caretaker in order to continue operating, we are not sure how or whether this would be practically or economically possible. It is also likely, in our opinion, that the prospect of such supervisory personnel being present at the accommodation would discourage many potential visitors.
For these reasons we object strongly to the proposal and hope the council will find other more realistic and tailored means of achieving its goals while still supporting and fostering a diverse visitor accommodation offering across the LGA.
Greg and Sylvia Ray.