The future of Radiata (Elphinstone) Plateau has been in the balance for over two decades. Development proposals have come and gone yet now with the approval of the development of a contentious dwelling, the fate of the Plateau is nearing.
Home to rare and threatened species, culturally significant and a magnet for the local outdoor community, Radiata Plateau, towering high above the rolling valley of the Megalong, has been in the making for millennia.
With its outstanding topography, Raidata Plateau, sitting on the southern escarpment is the last remaining undeveloped peninsula-plateau in the upper Blue Mountains.
The fragmentation of Radiata Plateau, by any development, would result in the loss of its high conservation value – reducing public accessibility for recreational and educational purposes, compromising the rare plants and historical value of the area and likely increase the probability of pollution in catchments.
Survival of the Plateau depends on the area remaining undisturbed.
The only way of truly protecting the area for future generations is for it to become part of the Blue Mountains National Park and be purchased by either the Federal or State government.
It is for this reason that we, the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, are calling on you, the community and all those with a commitment to, and passion for the Blue Mountains and its fragile environments, to help us persuade the Government of the value of this area and secure its future to protect the vulnerable and threatened species that call it home.
Plans for development are not new
Discussions about the future of the Plateau have been simmering since early 1990 when it was aired that any development would degrade, rather than conserve the natural ecological elements of the Plateau.
Owning the majority of the Plateau (305 hectares) including escarpment the owners, World Plan Executive Council of Australia Limited (WPECA) lodged a development application for an Educational Establishment and Recreation Facility on Radiata Plateau, in 1990.
The proposed academy would be for conferences and training programmes in Transcendental Meditation – discussions for which, it appears, began in 1977. The application included plans for one main building, a tea house, clinic and multiple smaller buildings with a view to the Academy ultimately having 415 rooms.
The plans received conditional approval from Council.
Strongly opposed by the Upper Blue Mountains Conservation Society (now BMCS) the Save the Radiata Plateau, the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, considerable opposition was also mounted with 2,500 objectors signing a petition and 278 submissions against the proposal.
The Upper Blue Mountains Conservation Society developed a comprehensive proposal for the acquisition of the land, as part of a Proposal for World Heritage Nomination; citing the proposed acquisition as 'the completion of the conservation of the Upper Blue Mountains system of reserves'.
"the area is extremely diverse geologically and climatically and contains the greatest array of vegetation adapted to a nutrient-poor soil of anywhere in the world"
Later in 1990, plans were made to sell Radiata Plateau as three separate parcels of land for development within the constraints of the Residential Bushland Conservation zoning.
At a Public Meeting during August 1991, for the Blue Mountains for World Heritage Listing the motion 'to include Radiata Plateau in the nominated area for World Heritage' was unanimously carried.
2004 to 2013
With the development application having lapsed the Plateau was again put up for sale in 2004.
During late 2004 and early 2005, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, joined the Blue Mountains Conservation Society and the Save the Radiata Plateau Group driving public awareness of the situation and urging environmental protection to be placed on it.
Sadly, the then Minister for the Environment, Mr Bob Debus, did not deem it environmentally valuable enough to consider acquisition.
No sale of the land was made.
2014 - 2016
In 2014, the Transcendental Meditation Group (TMO) sought to change the zoning of the Plateau to enhance its development potential; indicating a vision for a spa retreat, eco-tourism lodge and conference facility.
In 2016, development applications were lodged by the owners (now under the title Maharishi's Global Administration Through Natural Law Ltd.) for three "private" dwellings on the Plateau. Two of the dwellings being identical and located very close to each other. In response to these applications, submissions were lodged (against the the single dwelling and the two identical dwellings) by the Society as well as local residents.
The Council was unable to come to an agreement with the owners on the applications and Court ordered conciliation between the two did not result in variations to the developments both parties were happy with.
2017 - onwards
As a result, the issue was referred to the NSW Land and Environment Court. A hearing was held on February 20th and 21st that resulted in two of the three applications being refused. The approved dwelling was the one closer to existing housing.
The Society, along with other objectors to the developments, are relieved that the two of the applications have been declined but are concerned about the remaining one - particularly given that Maharishi's Global Administration has previously expressed intentions to commercially develop the Plateau.
As a consequence,the Society is firmly committed to raising awareness of the need for protection to be sought and for the Plateau to finally come under public ownership.
Early in 2017, the Society launched 'Leave Radiata Plateau Wild' – a campaign to raise broader awareness of the issue facing the Plateau and to encourage purchase by either the State or Federal Government so it can be incorporated into the Blue Mountains National Park for protection.
Support for the campaign has been terrific and on 30 July held a public rally at Cahill's Lookout that saw a fantastic turnout with the local and outdoor community gathering to show their commitment to protecting the Plateau.
We were delighted that Mayor, Mark Greenhill joined us and made a commitment, which has since been unanimously agreed upon by Council, to support full protection of the Plateau. As part of this commitment Council will be asking the State and / or Commonwealth Government to acquire the land for inclusion in the Blue Mountains National Park.
Suzie van Opdorp, spokesperson for Trish Doyle MP, also attended the rally and gave her support, recognising the need to protect the Plateau and that she was urgently seeking a meeting between the NSW Minister for the Environment, the Society and community members.
Since the rally the owners of the Plateau have indicated that they are considering their options in terms of the Plateau and open to further conversation about its future.
[both images: ©Tim Vollmer]