POINT Nepean and Mornington Peninsula national parks could be targeted by hotel developers after the state government last week announced a new policy to encourage tourism investment in these areas.
The changes, outlined in the government's response to the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission's final report into Victoria's tourism industry, will allow "appropriate, environmentally sensitive" private sector tourism investment in national parks.
However, while development is likely to be more in line with five-star camping, backpacker accommodation or high-end apartments, there is some concern the decision will also pave the way for hotel and resort-type development.
Point Nepean National Park has been undergoing a major upgrade over the past few months. The $13.8 million investment includes new service trenches for electricity, sewerage, water, gas and telecommunications as well as upgrades to existing roads and a 140-space car park.
The Friends of Point Nepean member Chris Smyth said it was obvious that major infrastructure works had been leading to some sort of development.
"I support a plan to conserve the quarantine station - something has to be done or it will disintegrate. But this doesn't have to be some new development. The station could be renovated and brought up to current standards of accommodation by putting in en suites for example," he said.
"But I am very concerned about the possibility of development going on in other areas of the park."
State Treasurer Kim Wells said the policy would bring Victoria into line with every other state in Australia, as well as New Zealand, which already allowed development in national parks.
Mr Wells said any investment proposal would be subject to tight environmental controls and approval from the environment minister.
"The minister will also be able to grant up to 99-year leases in national parks to provide greater certainty for investors to help encourage investments which enhance visitor experience.
"Lease conditions will ensure that proposals are consistent with the principles of ecological sustainable development and include conditions necessary to manage any environmental risks.
"The guidelines developed by the government will consider values of public land categories, planning requirements for bushfire risk, climate variability and any native title implications."
Tourism Minister Louise Asher said Victoria was competing with other states, the Northern Territory and New Zealand to gain market share in the lucrative eco-tourism sector, and needed to improve its offering to travellers to induce them to stay longer in regional Victoria.
■ The Victorian National Parks Association, in conjunction with the Environment Defenders Office, will hold a seminar at the Rosebud library from 5.30pm-7pm on Thursday, September 20 to help people understand the impact of changes to environmental laws, and how community members can be heard on the issues. Bookings are essential.
To register, go to edovic.org.au/defendingenvironmental-laws-seminar-rosebud.