'Unsatisfactory': Woollahra Council fights harbour function centre bid
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'Unsatisfactory': Woollahra Council fights harbour function centre bid

With towering sandstone cliffs, crashing waves and sweeping harbour views on their doorstep, residents of Sydney's South Head are no strangers to natural drama.

But a proposal to turn part of the headland park into a commercial function and wedding venue, attracting weekend crowds of up to 800 people, continues to stir a furore of a different kind.

Director George Miller at Greenpoint Reserve, Watson's Bay. He is among a powerful alliance of residents opposed to plans for a commercial function centre at Watsons Bay.

Director George Miller at Greenpoint Reserve, Watson's Bay. He is among a powerful alliance of residents opposed to plans for a commercial function centre at Watsons Bay.

Photo: Louise Kennerley

Woollahra Council has joined high-profile residents opposed to plans to transform six buildings owned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service into a venue at Camps Cove and Watsons Bay.

Proponents say the development would restore the headland's cluster of dilapidated buildings, two of which had previously been used for functions.

At an extraordinary meeting on Monday, councillors voted unanimously to advise the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage the proposal was "unsatisfactory and not supported by the council".

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Woollahra mayor Peter Cavanagh says councillors are concerned about noise levels and traffic congestion.

Woollahra mayor Peter Cavanagh says councillors are concerned about noise levels and traffic congestion.

Photo: Jacky Ghossein

The council said in a report the plan was at odds with aspects of Sydney Harbour national park's management plan, which aimed to provide visitors to the area with "rich and memorable experiences".

It also clashed with the park's desire to offer visitors "robust" management and safe transport to and from the headland.

The report said the "cumulative impacts" of a function centre at the headland would have an unreasonable impact on the area's residents, existing businesses, tourists and visitors.

"The proposal exceeds the relevant noise criterion, and would fail to maintain a reasonable level of acoustic privacy to the neighbouring properties.

"The traffic generated by the proposal would adversely impact upon the local road network."

Woollahra Council unanimously opposed the plan in its original form three years ago, before the slightly scaled-back plan was put forward.

Mayor Peter Cavanagh said councillors remained worried about noise and traffic congestion from an influx of cars and buses.

"The concern is a lot more traffic would be coming, and the roads there are very narrow," he said.

The Gaps Bluff proposal is driven by businessman Christopher Drivas, head of Dockside Group catering, which runs large function centres at Cockle Bay.

It takes in three cottages at Camp Cove beach at Watsons Bay and another three nearby in national parkland near The Gap.

A spokesman for Mr Drivas, Tim Allerton, declined to comment on the council's report on the revised proposal.

But Gap Bluff Hospitality previously stated its ambition to "remediate, restore and re-use" the buildings for short-term accommodation and functions under its lease.

The plans - which are on public exhibition until September 6 - include "extensive sound-proofing, curfews and parking and traffic attendants to ensure there is minimum disruption in the area".

Mad Max director George Miller, who lives at Watsons Bay, previously said the proposal to commercialise part of the park was an international embarrassment.

“This is not 'nimbyism'. This is South Head, the heritage gateway to the most iconic harbour in the world. If this is the best we can do, a low-grade commercial function centre, it is a shame on us all," he said.

Megan Gorrey is a reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a reporter at The Canberra Times.