Perspectives / Rod Davis offers his perspective on planning futures for the Douglas Shire


❝Town-planning changes are a hot issue: never catch a fired hot potato in your bare hands, unless you understand the heat.❞

❝Prepare, Douglas for planning changes, and my appeal, please, is to note the planning failures and successes of the past.

As a Councillor from the 2005 building boom era, the Douglas Townplan swept the floor in the key categories of the Queensland’s planning awards, at a time when up to 1100 new titles were approved in Council at the one sitting.

It was game on. But not all was well.

In the mid nineties, a revolutionary plan, opened up big new development areas in Douglas, under an innovative design scheme, trading desirable local styles, for Gross Floor Area.

Much as this Brannock and Humphries town plan re-shaped Douglas well, it was fully deficient in one key area. It managed the built form beautifully, but in terms of social outcome planning, it was a failure.

We pay the price now, as the plan promoted a monoculture of medium density apartments, which then generated a boring type of tourist, and a Shire managed by a soul free, body corporate manager. Those colourful local characters that owned and operated the old Douglas Shire, are a totally different species to a bunch of body corporate, wonks.

Atop this error, many of the Shire’s camping grounds, especially those in the heart of town, got re-zoned and demolished, and from there on, the floral nutters walking their dogs wearing a hibiscus flower hat, just vanished, and with them vanished the barefoot character of Port Douglas.

We now have a more right wing team at the helm, and as former property development manager, with a few billion bucks of crazy projects behind me, as well as being a loony green, I offer a view on both sides of the fence here.
First, be careful to not oversupply new stuff, at a time when existing stuff is, either vacant or falling in price. To that end, if you ask the town planners to check the status of all the approved, but unbuilt projects in the Shire, my bet is there are enough stagnated approved projects to keep Douglas in a building boom for a decade. But it was not the previous Council, or COVID that froze these projects, it was economic unviability.

If a response to the slump is to zone some more land for building, at a time when we are at a continuing low annual occupancy, with endless unused approved projects, and vacant land everywhere, ask yourself if we harm those who already own accommodation, but cannot fill it, by building more flats.

Growth is not always good, if it oversupplies and erodes value, in a falling market.

Secondly, if you move to turn Port Douglas into an upmarket retirement village, then kiss goodbye to tourism. People travel to see people, and a Macrossan Street full of pram pushing, eat-at-homers, or retirees parking their mobility scooters, ain’t sexy.

douglas shire planning

If you want a retirement village to welcome guests entering town, think again. Sure, make retirees welcome, but not in the same suburb as the tourism machine.

Consider the idea that body corporate owned buildings contribute way less to communal promotional effort than a one-owner, or single team ownership, so if you are going to allow something new, somewhere different or controversial, consider the merits of a operator who is also owner. 4900 properties in the Shire are externally owned, so I ask, must we continue being mere tenants in our own Shire, paying out everything we make, to those 4900 landlords, or is it wiser to design things to benefit the working residents?

We cannot raise the capital as a community, without selling out, so promote things that keep the wealth made by the Shire, in the Shire.

The combination of body corporate, and or retiree expansion in Port Douglas is a terminal path.

If you want see an interesting example of gang busting, small town tourism, look to NZ. Here they lead the world in active, and sports based tourism.

Many of these NZ towns are full of campers and vans. They have a buzz on. To get some life back into town, we do not need Gucci wannabes, we need colour and spunk. So re-look at the unused arboreum between the Community Hall and the marina, for in-town camping.

Go retro to get hip.

Plan for people type, not building type.

douglas-shire planning

And face it folks, you can kiss goodbye to any big new property development projects for maybe four more years.

Get over the cargo cult maddness, that says rich people make the sun shine, just ask Skase, or our Syrian team.

Douglas needs to attract a younger, or more active guest, and building yet more boring buildings will not make them come, in fact it will do just the opposite.

The NZ model that sets a very high bar on eco-nurture, also pumps its guests through NZ’s beautiful natural playground…endlessly.

Be chuffed, Douglas Shire, we own the most beautiful 100km stretch of rainforest coast in either NZ or Australia, so dudes, wake up, this is the best of the best, the best looking place in Oz! Go play!

Why build trails through ordinary Wangetti scrub, when the real deal stuff is in the mountains behind us?

You do not need an expansion of the planning footprint, instead, Douglas needs a rethink of how to increase guest numbers, through active tourism.

Focus on people, not buildings.

Intergrate your Yalanji facilities at Mossman Gorge, with camper interaction, and at China Camp, get camping style cultural interpretation, integrated with dragging bogged visitors out of the creek.

If people want to do pop-up dinner parties on a moonlit beach, facilitate and regulate it, do not kill it.
In Australia, our National Parks guys are underfunded, and have a narky rule set, whereas in NZ, their Park teams are well funded to help get visitors into the biosphere, not locked out of it.

So there is an opportunity here for Douglas to get another 1000 guests each night, by 2025, without a single new block of flats, using a people focus, ahead of a futile bricks and mortar, footprint expansion .

You can be sure, that an expansion of footprints into former sacred no go zones, will be like a tribe of cowboys playing pass the parcel with a hot potato. The game of who gets to be rich by a re-zone, does little for the 99%, and burns Councillor careers.

To the new Council, if you want to create a local civil war, get loose with footprint planning. But if you want to be innovative, aim to get a 1000 guests by 2025, through active, outdoor tourism.

Face it folks, the developers will all soon be on fire, and growth aint coming via a new Marina cargo cult.

Back in the day, Douglas led Australia as a green icon, through 30 years of environmental hutzpa, the town plans of places like Noosa and Byron used to study our plans, then copy them. We led.

The hard green yards are done, most big issues sorted, and the tourists flocked here rather than Mission, because of all the green protester fuss. I don’t recall a ‘Save Mission Beach’ bumper sticker in Sydney.

We now throw the new Council into an economic vacuum, as maybe the $hardest hit, COVID-impacted town in Australia.

There will be no property boom for a long time, and very little can be done to improve the economic situation through a building boom that was already limp in Febuary this year.

But there is one thing that can de done. And it’s simple, look at the NZ model, and copy it.

Maintain the footprints. Open up more camping. Facilitate rather than squash those wanting to interpret our wonderland. Plan around the missing demographics, not the missing projects.

To Michael Kerr and the new Council, you have a great opportunity now, you can either choose to get expansive with town plan on a road to nowhere, or you can enliven our Shire with active, outdoor tourism.

Once again, dear Douglas, it is into the breach we slip. When that firing pin hits the charge, what direction are we aiming?

Being green, is no impediment to being prosperous. I am sure there exists a lot of latent frustration around the stagnation of Douglas. I apologise that while us former local leaders did many good things, we also made mistakes. We failed to get the social mix right, and failed to see the effects of monocultural accommodation types.

For those who have seen and dislike the changes in Port Douglas since 1990, consider the awkward point I make here, that a failure in the social planning aspects of town planning has delivered a bad outcome. We should have had a full spread of accommodation types, and mixed guests, through an active engaged tourism sector that does not just serve the white shoe brigade.

We had neither.

Trump may not be have been able to make America great again, but Kerr could make Douglas fun again.❞

Rod Davis
+62 81338317018.


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