Northern Grampians Shire says it will work closely with Halls Gap Zoo on a plan to transform the visitor drawcard into Western Victoria’s landmark tourist attraction.
The zoo will seek state government funding for its plan redevelop its enclosures and guest amenities.
Northern Grampians mayor Tony Driscoll said the shire would work alongside the Hall Gap Zoo’s owners and operators, Greg and Yvonne Culell, to develop a detailed feasibility study and business case for state support.
The proposed upgrades would include a rhinoceros enclosure, nocturnal house, café and other minor upgrades planned to take place over a five-year period.
“The Halls Gap Zoo is already one of our premier tourist destinations, and this project will only further serve to boost that reputation,” Cr Driscoll said.
“This is the perfect example of where the Business Assistance Scheme can provide a helping hand - an established local business is looking to expand and diversify, and Council is more than happy to be helping out in any way that we can.
“In this instance, we’re assisting the zoo’s operators to develop their business model and present the best case possible to secure Victorian Government funding.”
Under its recently-redeveloped Business Assistance Scheme, the shire will provide financial support, alongside the support of Economic Development staff.
The business model and feasibility study would be carried out by an independent consultant.
Mr Culell said he was excited about the project’s potential to boost visitor number to the region, and looked forward to working alongside the shire to do so.
“This is an exciting project for both ourselves but also for the region,” Mr Culell said.
“Western Victoria needs a well known iconic tourism destination to rival the likes of Dubbo Zoo, Swan Hill’s Pioneer Settlement and Eureka Stockade and Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, and this five-year project at Halls Gap Zoo will go a long way to implementing this.
“While this project won't benefit Yvonne and myself directly, we are delighted to work together with Council and Grampians Tourism to create a long-lasting legacy that can be used by the community to draw visitation to the region.”
Halls Gap Zoo and Northern Grampians Shire haven’t always been on the same page with the tourist attraction’s expansion plans, wit its planning permit being knocked back in 2013.
Meanwhile, Halls Gap Zoo has hit a stalemate with the state government for its current planning.
The owners say they are unable to apply for any new permits until a turning lane outside the premises is created.
However, they refuse to pay, claiming Northern Grampians Shire Council should instead take responsibility.
Mr Culell said it followed a four-year tussle with local government after the the council changed the usage of property from Halls Gap Wildlife Park to Halls Gap Zoo in 2015.
Mr Culell said the change in permitting was in reaction to a misinformed zoning decision.
“Before we bought the business we approached council and questioned if all the permits were in place and all the zoning was correct, and they said yes,” he said.
“Four years later they came to us and said our permits and zoning were incorrect – that we needed new permits to counteract a zoning problem, so we’ve ended up having two VCAT hearings to resolve this.”
Halls Gap Zoo was established on a rural residential zone code (1), but Mr Cullel said it should have been on rural residential zone code (2) instead.
“Council then changed our establishment from a wildlife park to a zoo to get around this zoning issue,” he said.
Since the naming change VicRoads then approached and ordered Halls Gap Zoo to construct a sealed shoulder to improve the safety of vehicles turning right into the zoo.
But Mr Culell said he refused to pay for the construction.
VicRoads’ regional director for the western region Mal Kersting confirmed they had been referred the new planning permit by Northern Grampians Shire Council in December, 2015 under the Planning and Environment Act.
“We’ve been working closely with the Northern Grampians Shire Council since late 2015 over the issuing of a new permit to cover the operations of Halls Gap Zoo,” he said.
“VicRoads does not object to the issuing of the permit, so long as the works are undertaken to ensure the safety of vehicles turning right into the zoo.”