On Thursday night, the committee of five aldermen unanimously passed a motion to make any public or operational land owned by the city not available “for the construction of an access road or any other infrastructure to support a cable car development”.
The motion will be used as a recommendation to the full council and, provided no-one changes their mind, will have the backing of at least five out of the council’s 11 aldermen.
Alderman Jeff Briscoe, who tabled the motion, likened the decision to the Carlton United Breweries’ refusal to allow any construction on their land.
“The committee is recommending to council not to give the company access to land to build a road for their cable car,” he said.
At the packed meeting, the MWCC had not applied to construct anything but to conduct a flora and fauna study across a 50-metre-wide corridor of land near McRobies Gully in South Hobart.
The site to be studied was flagged in development plans released on the weekend as the location for a 3km link road.
Alderman Briscoe said the committee’s task was to consider the request for study but went further to address the plans for a road at the site.
“Why would they do a flora and fauna study if they didn’t want a road? It was really a circular argument,” he said.
The council will consider the motion at the next meeting on August 20.
It states in full:
In respect to any proposed cable car development that may be established in Wellington Park and noting the provisions of the Mount Wellington (Cable Car Facilitation) Act 2017, any public and operational land owned by the City, located on the foothills of kunanyi/Mount Wellington and outside Wellington Park not be made available for the construction of an access road or any other infrastructure to support a cable car development.
A MWCC spokesman said the company was looking forward to the next full council meeting’s decision and was “optimistic”.
In a statement, Ms Franks said it was pleasing that “council officers had recommended the routine study to be undertaken”.
“This is just a preliminary study to ascertain exactly what flora and fauna is there, which should be uncontroversial,” she said.
“We look forward to the final go-ahead so we can progress our development application.”
‘Confusion’ over access road
Alderman Anna Reynolds said there was confusion around the route the road would take and so the MWCC “didn’t do itself any favours”.
“They submitted a request to survey a road route [and] the comments in the media and to staff was that the route was along an existing fire trail, but when our staff investigated further we found that the proposed route was actually largely between two existing fire trails,” she said.
“So the new road … was going to require a whole new swathe of bushland to be cleared for an 8 to 9-metre-wide road.
“It was a little bit presumptuous of the company … to just assume that the public bushland would be there to hand over to build a very substantial road.”
On halting the process before a flora and fauna assessment could occur, she said it was better the “council makes a clear decision now”.
She said she did not “see any reason why the council would knock back the Parks Committee’s recommendation”.
“I think it’s a sensible decision. We have to make the best decision for the Hobart community, our environment and our parks,” she said.
‘Abuse of process’: Thomas
Other aldermen have disagreed, with one, Damon Thomas, describing at an abuse of process.
“I’m aghast at the abuse of process which happened … the chairman should never have accepted the motion which was a completely different motion to what was for the meeting,” he said.
“I believe that Hobartians as a community should embrace at least consideration of all new developments, whether or not they like them.
“In this case all that was asked for was a right to go onto our land to observe and take note of fauna and flora.
“That should’ve been the decision last night and that should’ve been the way in which the meeting happened, not hijacked by emotion.”
He indicated he would reject the motion on August 20.
Alderman Marti Zucco described last night’s committee decision as “interference” by “idealistic aldermen”.
“It’s very, very poor for the aldermen of the city to interfere with a process,” he said.
“We have professional officers who have got far more experience than any alderman of this council to determine whether or not the request was suitable to proceed with a fauna study.”
Backers of project revealed
The committee decision comes as the ABC can reveal the backers of the cable car project, with a Tasmanian hotel boss, the manager of the Maydena Mountain Bike Park and a professional gambler among the investors.
The MWCC has been reluctant to reveal who is funding the $50 million project after releasing new plans for the project last weekend.
Chairwoman Jude Franks said the company did not want to divulge information about the people funding the project “at this point” but plans to do so once a development application is lodged.
She said the company had “a lot of shareholder funding” already secured, as well as pledges and “a lot of investor interest going forward”.
“We would hope that our debt-to-equity ratio would sit at normal commercial levels, but [the project] will be predominantly privately funded by shareholders and private, some institutions as well,” she said.
Documents from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) reveal the people who have so far invested in the company, the vast majority of them Tasmanians.
More than two million ordinary shares have been issued for the MWCC, as well as over 850,000 preference shares. ASIC documents show the amount paid for the shares was $1,298,713.
Tucre, a company jointly owned by Tourism Tasmania chairman James Cretan and professional gambler and yachtsman Phillip Turner — a Tasmanian who is based in Thailand — is one of the most significant backers.
Tucre holds 250,000 shares in the MWCC, and paid $312,500 for them in late 2016.
Mr Turner was part of a professional gambling group of mathematical geniuses that included MONA founder David Walsh.
Innkeepers Tasmania chief executive and Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania director Ian Rankine has 14,000 shares in the MWCC through Mice Investments, which he owns with wife Elizabeth.
Maydena Mountain Bike Park manager Simon French is also a shareholder through his company Dirt Art.
Dirt Art is listed as a supplier on the MWCC’s website, which says “MWCC are confident and excited by Dirt Art’s ability to produce fresh and exciting trail concepts for the mountain, based upon proven construction technologies”.
Cable Car project director Mike Mahoney holds shares through Extra Mile Tourism Management Pty Ltd, with MWCC chairwoman Jude Franks and chief executive Adrian Bold’s company Riser and Gain all invested in the company.
Financier Tony Shadforth’s company Suetone is a shareholder, as is Arm End golf course project director Craig Ferguson, SRT Logistics managing director James Miller, former Shadforth financial analyst Robert Johnston’s company Bensam, and tourism entrepreneur Lloyd Clark’s company Tiger Island Nominees.
An administrator of the Facebook page Tasmanians for kunanyi/Mt Wellington, Geoff Young, is also an investor in the project.
John Clennett from Clennett’s Mitre 10 in Huntingfield has 20,000 shares in the MWCC, while former INCAT director Leith Thompson has 10,000.
Victorian-registered company Fairisle Holdings is also a shareholder.
The Tasmanian Government has repeatedly said if the project moves forward it will be privately funded, without the use of taxpayer funds.
Editor’s note: This story was changed to remove a reference to Ian Wheeler as being an investor. Mr Wheeler is the chief financial officer of MWCC.
Feature image credit: Mount Wellington Cableway Company
This article was written as part of my employment with the ABC. My work in this piece was concerned with the rejection of the flora and fauna study. The rest of the work was done by ABC state political reporter Alexandra Humphries. It was published on 10th August and is available here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-10/mount-wellington-cable-car-facing-council-hurdle/10102570