Council backs contentious Wallcliffe House project despite bushfire risk and heritage backlash

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Wallcliffe House pictured in 2020 prior to revegetation efforts.
Camera IconWallcliffe House pictured in 2020 prior to revegetation efforts. Credit: Supplied

The revival plan for Margaret River’s famed Wallcliffe House has sailed through council consideration ahead of a final decision by a State Government panel.

Despite strong complaints about bushfire safety and Aboriginal heritage concerns, Augusta-Margaret River shire councillors gave the project their backing at last Wednesday night’s meeting.

With Cr Tracey Muir declaring a conflict of interest as a Nature Conservation Margaret River employee, the otherwise unanimous vote came after lengthy submissions from residents for and against the project.

The council decision upheld planners’ responsible authority report that was expected to go before the Joint Development Assessment Panel as soon as next month.

The latest plans feature the 18-room hotel as well as seven cottages, a restaurant and bar, small gallery and spa treatment rooms as well as road and garden works.

The scale was reduced to address environmental, fire safety and heritage issues, though public backlash had since ensued after owners Alexandra and Julian Burt revealed the change meant residents would only be permitted on the grounds during special events.

A key concern at Wednesday’s meeting was the proposal not meeting agreed bushfire risk management standards, though Shire sustainable development and infrastructure director Nick Logan said the policy included scope for discretion.

“An inflexible approach to the enforcement of the policy would be an error of judgement,” he said.

Site-specific treatments to minimise required clearing included a focus on the built materials in the redevelopment, the meeting was told.

However, Wallcliffe House’s destruction during the 2011 Margaret River bushfires was always going to make fire safety a major concern.

Former shire president and volunteer firefighter Jamie McCall fronted the meeting to warn the zoned tourism site posed unacceptable risks.

“If we keep putting these sorts of developments in extreme fire-risk areas we are going to have loss of infrastructure and potential loss of life,” he said.

“It is not fit for forwarding to JDAP.”

Wadandi matriarch Vivian Brockman Webb and supporter Geraldine Clarke also railed against the project they didn’t want to disturb the heritage site at all.

“I don’t know how the Environmental Protection Authority could’ve signed off on something like this,” Ms Brockman Webb said.

“Why are you so insistent on destroying an ancient burial ground?”

However, Karri Karrak Aboriginal Corporation social impact specialist Abby Phillis said an expert panel including Wadandi elder Wayne Webb supported the project continuing with sensitivity to heritage concerns.

Shire planners also noted the redevelopment had Federal Aboriginal heritage approval as well as the support of the WA Heritage Council and the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

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