BY GEORGIA FULLERTON
A proposal to convert part of Sydney’s South Head National Park into a commercial function and wedding centre has been met with fury from local residents.
The proposal for the centre, put forward by businessman and head of Dockside catering group, Christopher Drivas, could see a further 800 guests visit Watsons Bay each weekend.
Residents protesting the development, including Mad Max director George Miller, say it would heavily compromise the iconic headland park, which is a heritage listed area.
Member of the Save South Head campaign, Stuart Spence, said, “As a professional photographer living in Watsons Bay, and having spent countless hours shooting one of the greatest sunset views of Sydney from up at Gap Bluff, the thought of those precious moments being spoilt by hordes of partying drunks makes me seriously ill…and depressed”.
Located at Camp Cove beach, the six buildings included in the plan comprised three cottages next to the beach and another three a short distance away in national parkland near the sandstone cliffs of The Gap.
Local and owner of Watsons Bay Milk Bar and general store Con Georgiou said if the proposal goes ahead the impact on the community would be severe, “Nearly everyone in the community comes through the store, and the overwhelming response from the people of Watsons Bay and Camp Cove is negative.
“I believe if it does go ahead, it will affect people’s lives and I just don’t think it is appropriate.”
The National Park is enjoyed by thousands of international visitors and locals, who come for the iconic views of Sydney and the fish and chips.
Defense Security Advisor for the Australian Defence Force and Watsons Bay resident, Judy Tietzel-Berry, said Watsons Bay has a unique status as Australia’s oldest fishing village but also draws locals and visitors to its nature reserves and spectacular parklands.
“It is known as a tourist area on account of the amazing harbour views but on the back end of this, it is also our home,” she said.
“Our community loves sharing this wonderful space with the many international visitors that come each day, but we also see the lasting effects of the over-polluted peak times and fractured infrastructure.”
The Gap Bluff development proposal was first submitted three years ago, but after strong community objections have since been scaled back by 12 per cent.
Under the revised plan the venues would now cater for more than 400 guests daily, with functions running in two separate areas from 8:30 pm until midnight, seven days a week.
If the proposal is approved, the lease will run for 40 years.
Residents have raised concerns about the impact the development will have on noise, parking, and a high traffic volume on already congested and narrow roads each weekend.
In response, Dockside Catering Group has promised to put in place traffic and safety marshals, soundproofing and curfews to ensure “minimum disruption to the area”.
Ms Tietzel-Berry said, “It is heartbreaking to think what this new commercial function and wedding centre would do to our little village…we need to keep this national treasure for our kids and also for the wider community and tourists to enjoy the tranquility and ambiance of this unique area.”
Watsons Bay is already home to large wedding centre and restaurant Dunbar House, and the frequently visited Watsons Bay Hotel and seafood restaurant, Doyles on the Beach.
In October of 2016, Woollahra Council wrote to NSW Transport, urging for an increase in ferry frequency after commuters had been turned away because the ferries were too full.
Watsons Bay resident Bronwyn Joan said lack of ferry space is still a pressing issue, “Most weekends you will see a line stretching from the ferry door to the very end of the Watsons Bay Hotel.
“It is impossible to find a parking space already, imagine what will happen if we have 800 more people frequenting the area each weekend.”
Woollahra Council unanimously opposed the development three years ago.
In 2016, Member for Vaucluse Gabrielle Upton declared herself “uncomfortable” with the proposal and supported a petition against it.
Ms Upton is now Minister for the Environment, and her department will be the determining authority as to whether or not the proposal will go ahead.