by Sandy Zubrinich
OPINION: THE Sunshine Coast has long been attempting to shed the stigma of being a 'hard place to do business', with politicians as well as business and industry groups aiming to attract quality capital investors to the region to bolster the local economy.
Regrettably, if Sekisui's Yaroomba development is a test of how far we have come, then there is a strong likelihood we may be failing.
While the Sunshine Coast Business Council conducted a series of think tank sessions between 2015 and 2017 (working with government, planners, academics, interest groups, industry groups, media and developers to consider how best to protect the diversity and richness of the Sunshine Coast region beyond its economic value), I am questioning whether any meaningful change has taken place.
The think tanks examined the growth opportunities and challenges for the Sunshine Coast region; how to balance growth, development and the environment; and how to increase the effectiveness of community engagement to deliver positive change for the community, business and government.
The three-year investment in time, resources and funding to conduct these think tank sessions was no mean feat, and while all participants collaborated respectfully and openly in answering these questions and suggesting workable actions, the question remains: have we really made any progress?
Unfortunately, emotion rather than intellect seems to be driving too much of the discussion around the Yaroomba development despite the availability of expert advice. This perpetuates misleading and often incorrect information (fake news) rather than moving us, as a community, closer to understanding how to balance growth, development and the environment, to benefit all into the future.
Claims there has been a 'massive breach of the planning scheme proposed by Sekisui House for its Yaroomba Beach site' are an overreach at best.
The idea that development proposals that fall outside the Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme 2014 should not be assessed by council is incorrect. The planning scheme has always had mechanisms for addressing these applications and considering their full merit. Community consultation is one of those mechanisms and it is the responsibility of the community to make sure they are accessing the available expert opinions and the interest groups to promote the facts.
Also of concern is that many interest groups still appear to prefer to promote their views through social media and placards rather than sitting down with the developer to voice their issues, understanding the available expert opinions and seeking a win-win solution.
I have repeatedly urged both sides to keep talking and to be open minded in finding workable solutions that will enable the development to proceed and the economic benefit to be realised for the region. Certainly not at all costs, but in a way all parties can live with.
The business council urges cool heads going forward. It is not too late to come together and to seek sensible discussion and find solutions that will benefit this region.
The Yaroomba development represents a $1 billion investment in this regional economy over 10 years.
That translates in to 1400 jobs, a significant injection in tourism accommodation and amenity, and an ongoing ripple effect in the small business community.
Notwithstanding all the direct employment opportunities, the exposure through the Marriott Group connection alone could redefine the region's international status as an eco-tourism destination.
With the airport expansion under way, the region needs 5-star accommodation and conference facilities to capture the demand and provide positive dividends back to the community on this infrastructure upgrade.
Let me be clear in saying that the business council is not pro-development at any cost.
We are a key business advocate for planned economic growth and prosperity, and as an independent industry group, we promote balanced development and sustainable economic prosperity.
We simply call for all stakeholders to work together on this issue so we can progressively provide for our future generations.