A PETITION with more than 10,000 signatures is backing a community campaign to protect the former Fantasy Glades site in Port Macquarie on the NSW North Coast from development.
The petition on change.org was organised by the Shelly Beach Residents Action Group in opposition to a development application to turn the site off Parklands Close and Wandella Avenue into a gated caravan park with 12 long-term sites.
Fantasy Glades, a popular local tourist attraction, ceased operations in 2002 and since then, the replica buildings such as Cinderella's Castle, the Old Woman's Shoe and miniature chapel have become derelict and surrounded by bushland.
The park opened to the public in August 1968 and operated on the site for about 35 years. It was the brainchild of George and Rosemary Whitaker, their two children James and Lynette, and Rosemary's parents, Aub and Lin Gribble, who moved to Port Macquarie from Sydney with a vision to create a theme park based on the world's most popular Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
Its closure in 2002 was announced by manager and part-owner Brian Hutchinson who attributed the decision to the age and ill-health of partners and park operators Pat and George Spry.
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Shane and Karen Hay purchased the park in 2009 with a vision to bring Fantasy Glades Back to life. They regretfully put the property on the market in November 2013.
It was purchased by Jeff Crowe who submitted an eco-cabin proposal for the development of the site in 2017. There were objections to that proposal which prompted the formation of the Shelly Beach Residents Action Group.
Under the current DA being assessed by Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, the existing castle is proposed to be utilised as a café.
The site is zoned R1 General Residential, E2 Environmental Conservation and RE2 Private Recreation under the provisions of Port Macquarie-Hastings LEP 2011. A social impact statement prepared as a part of the application to develop the land says the proposal will not encroach on the Environmental Conservation zoned land.
The site is surrounded by residential developments to the north and east. An environmental corridor which connects into Wrights Creek is located at the western end.
"The proposed development aims to be more compatible with the adjoining residential properties. The proposed design of the development is considered to be "capable of residents existing together in harmony" with the surrounding environment.
"It is not believed that the physical impacts of the proposed development will cause any negative constraints on the development potential of surrounding sites. The establishment of buffer areas adjoining existing residential developments within the area will ensure privacy to residents.
"The proposed Koala Plan of Management will ensure the safety of the local koala community."
Council has recommended one short-term caravan site be included in the plans, however more than 86 per cent of community survey respondents opposed the provision of short-term sites.
The community survey was distributed to residents living within 200m of the proposed development.
Almost 60 per cent respondents disagreed the development was beneficial in preserving the "history and nostalgia" of the site; believed it would adversely impact on koala populations and that crime would increase.
The Shelly Beach Residents Group and Guulagu Koala Custodians group are both leading the petition and say the land provides a narrow koala corridor with Sea Acres Rainforest.
Concerned resident Sara Phillips said the support for the petition has been outstanding.
"With the fires, and seeing the devastation of the koalas and koala habitat, it feels even more urgent that we protect as much habitat as possible," she said.
"Council visited the property with an ecologist and couldn't believe large number of koala scats in the area.
"We would love to see (the site) as some kind of reserve or sanctuary that people can use and be with the koalas."
She said not only are koala food trees at risk, so too are the trees used to climb and move about.
The petition to stop the development says the site is covered in tall trees and is also home migratory birds and other wildlife.
Koalas are also of cultural importance to Birpai peoples. The word koala is directly linked to the Gathang word guula.
The petition says "there is a cultural responsibility to work actively for koala conservation".
The Guulagu Koala Custodians group was formed to educate the broader community about koalas, their conservation status, as well as the role that traditional ecological knowledge and land management practices play in contemporary koala conservation.
"Our community is concerned that more removal of trees and land clearing will disturb koala habitat and the koalas ability to move between the koala corridor and Sea Acres Rainforest. With the rate of land clearing and fires in our local region the koala is at risk of extinction in a few short years," group spokesperson Arlene Mehan said.
The groups will speak with Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams about changes to the most recent koala policy and to table their petition in Parliament.
The petition will be submitted in response to the DA on Friday, May 7 and also lodged with council at its May ordinary meeting.