Backdown on resort and theme park leases

Media Release  |   5 May 2024

In a significant development, the NPWS responded to concerns raised by conservationists and bushwalkers and backed down on its plans for 20-year tourist leases to develop the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area north-east of Lithgow.

‘On 24 March, NPWS notified Bushwalking NSW that it had withdrawn the plan to proceed with 20-year leases for 4 resort-style accommodation huts and an adventure theme park,’ said Keith Muir, 4nature spokesperson.

‘The exclusive access leases, which would have locked in these outrageous tourism developments, will now be readvertised.

‘The community made over 1,000 submissions strongly objecting to leases during the public exhibition period.

‘On the same day, to protect the Gardens of Stone against the signing of the leases, a volunteer run organisation, Nature Defenders, commenced legal proceedings in the Land and Environment Court against the tourist developments.

‘Once Nature Defenders learnt of the NPWS backflip, the court action was withdrawn.

‘Nature Defenders may well restart proceedings as they still have serious concerns regarding the lease processes, the plan of management and over-development proposed for the conservation area.

‘Conservationists are yet to secure an assurance from the NPWS that the original tourism proposals will not proceed. Nature Defenders and Bushwalking NSW will now urge the incoming Minns government to abandon the inappropriate and unpopular tourism proposals,’ said Mr Muir.

When the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area was announced in November 2021, it came with a $50 million package to transform the reserve with tourism resorts, an adventure theme park and other forms of over-development. This vision is inconsistent with the way state conservation reserves should be managed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Conservation and bushwalking groups will continue to work to ensure that nature-focused visitor use is delivered, as outlined in the Destination Pagoda plan. NPWS needs to ensure that the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area offers appropriately located, low-impact facilities that deliver nature-focused visitor use.

4nature has worked with sister organisation, Nature Defenders, and Bushwalking NSW to oppose the over-development of the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area.