As idyllic islands up and down the Great Barrier Reef sit in ruins, a central Queensland council has knocked back a huge resort-style development that has been more than a decade in the planning.
Pacificus has been jumping regulatory hurdles to build on Hummock Hill Island near the port city of Gladstone since 2005.
The developer wants to build more than 2,500 residential units — including 770 permanent homes — on the largely undeveloped island, as well as shops, a golf course, airstrip, Indigenous cultural centres and even a plant nursery.
But this week, Gladstone Regional Council knocked back its application on 17 grounds, claiming the resort was too big, not needed, would disturb the coastline, and could take business away from tourist towns 1770 and Agnes Water further down the coast.
Councillor Kahn Goodluck voted against the development.
“We’ve got a history on the east coast of Queensland where resorts over the past decade have gone bankrupt and had to be bought out,” he said.
Up and down the coast, several island resorts are sitting empty with cyclone damage, and about a quarter of those operating on tourism leases with the State Government are behind on rent.
Just this month, another island hotel about 100km up the coast from Hummock Hill was put on the market as its owner continued to try to attract financing.
“If the [Hummock Hill] development were to go bankrupt and run out of money, those people that live on that island are still going to expect roads, sewerage, water,” Cr Goodluck said.
“All of that infrastructure would revert back to Gladstone Regional Council and then be the burden and responsibility of the ratepayers of the Gladstone region.”
Gladstone’s economy is suffering after the LNG boom, with home values dropping every year since 2014 while rates do not follow that trend.
Region is ‘different to Surfers or Noosa’
Despite his comments, Cr Goodluck said he still supported large-scale resorts in locations such as 1770 and Agnes Waters.
“It’s perfect for that type of place,” he said.
“It’s not perfect for an island that lies 100km down the road in a place where there’s currently no infrastructure and very limited resources available.”
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- Once majestic South Molle Island lies in ruins
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Discovery Coast Tourism and Commerce, which represents businesses in Agnes Water and 1770, welcomed the council’s decision.
“We are not at capacity yet,” president Amber Rodgers said.
“If [our tourist attractions were] full then it’s a different story. Then the region may need to grow and have an additional product that exists.
“People come to this area for [the] natural beauty, having a very different destination from Surfer’s Paradise or Noosa.”
Much closer to Hummock Hill, the owner of Turkey Beach’s general store, Allison Randall, had previously backed the island development due to its potential to boost business in her region.
“It is just terribly, dreadfully slow,” Ms Randall said.
Pacificus claimed its project would generate more than 3,000 construction jobs in Queensland during its 10-year development period, with more than 700 full-time positions once the resort was fully operational.
Despite this, Ms Randall said she now backed the council, as long as its decision to prioritise the Discovery Coast was more than talk.
“We need to have an injection of vibrancy into our region, because we can’t rely on boom, bust, boom, bust,” she said.
Developer can ask state to intervene
In a statement, a spokesperson for Pacificus said it was “very disappointed” in the council’s decision.
“This project represents the start of a new and sustainable era for Gladstone, and the largest tourism project in the Great Barrier Reef since Hamilton Island 30 years ago,” the spokesperson said.
“It is a huge and unprecedented step for tourism.
“While we are disappointed in the result, we remain fully committed to the project and are considering the best way forward to enable the project to proceed.”
The developer can appeal the council’s decision, and it also has the option of asking Queensland’s Solicitor-General to intervene.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the relevant minister, Cameron Dick, said the State Government “supports the development of sustainable tourism infrastructure in the Gladstone region”.
“The coordinator-general is liaising with the project proponent for the Hummock Hill proposal as it considers the implications of the council’s decision and its options.”