The combined business chamber movement of the Southern Highlands has today called for a plan to drive the growth of the tourism sector and the wider economy in its submission to Wingecarribee Shire Council’s draft Rural Tourism Policy.

In the view of the Illawarra Business Chamber, the regional umbrella organisation, together with its affiliates, the Southern Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Moss Vale & Rural Chamber of Commerce, the draft plan proposed by Council is a welcome first step, but too incremental at a time when the region should be preparing for significant growth in regional tourism.
 
The Draft Policy proposes a number of minor amendments to existing regulations that will modestly expand opportunities for the local food and drink industry and boutique accommodation providers.
 
However it also proposes to remove a key clause allowing Council to approve new tourism developments and opportunities to hold temporary events; already problematic as has been seen most recently in the efforts by Centennial Vineyards to secure approval for its ‘A Day on the Green’ concert series which eventually received Council’s approval.
 
“The Southern Highlands business community needs to see leadership on economic development from the key consent authority in the region, which is Council. We need to see a balance between what the community might want and what businesses need to survive. Although this is a great start, the Draft Policy falls short of the mark.” said Steve Horton, Chair of the Southern Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
 
One of the measures proposed by Council is a filtered approach to considering applications for tourism-related developments, which would leave businesses with limited opportunities for growth.
 
“We can’t shut the door on small artisan producers, agri-tourism, arts and culture in nearly 50 percent of the Shire. We would like to see Council expand their Draft Policy to what the state planning template allows other NSW regional areas to do. We would like to be on a level playing field with other regional areas’ growth. While we are underperforming currently in overnight stays, a lift in these areas will benefit the entire Southern Highlands economy while giving purpose to our green spaces to make them viable.” said Brigid Kennedy, Chair of the Moss Vale & Rural Chamber of Commerce.
 
The Illawarra Business Chamber is calling for Council to develop a plan for the growth of the tourism sector that will allow the Southern Highlands to become an easier place to do business for responsible operators and allow the region to benefit from an expected doubling in regional visitor overnight expenditure.
 
“There is an urgent need for longer-term plans to grow the tourism sector and other parts of the economy. We do not want to miss out on the opportunity to grow our tourism sector because of a shortage of vision and an oversupply of regulation.” said Adam Zarth, Executive Director of the Illawarra Business Chamber – the regional chamber encompassing the Highlands.
 
“On behalf of the business community, we are committed to continuing to work with Council to ensure the sustainable development of the Southern Highlands economy, and we appreciate the opportunity to have been consulted on this policy.” said Mr Zarth.

 
Media Contact: James Newton (0417 135 858)
 

A copy of the Illawarra Business Chamber and Affiliate Chambers submission is available at this link.