By Steve Cuff
The NSW Government and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have not granted any company a new head lease arrangement for Perisher Range in their recent Governance Review.
The decision which was not expected until October was released to Perisher, Perisher Chamber of Commerce and the Perisher Slopes recently in what is a disappointing decision for all interested parties, including snow visitors.
It was hoped that a head lease would have been granted to Perisher, who have huge vested interest in the valley as the lift company. They would then have been able to plan their future and commit to a village knowing they had controlling rights.
NPWS released this statement on the Perisher Range.
• The Expression of Interest responses were evaluated for Perisher Range. On the advice of the tender panel the Government will not be offering a head lease to any proponent for Perisher Range at this time.
• A sustainable service delivery model for Perisher Range is important for the future of the resort. Government is investigating better cost recovery options for providing services at Perisher Range Resorts and will progress this in consultation with stakeholders.
In a surprising twist, they will continue to have negotiations direct with Charlotte Pass in a separate head lease for that resort. It was thought that the Perisher and Charlotte Pass areas would have come under the one head lease.
• The Expression of Interest responses have been evaluated by the tender panel for Charlotte Pass. The panel resolved that the proposed RFT stage of the review can be better progressed through direct negotiations with successful proponents from the EOI. These negotiations are confidential. OEH advises that no final decisions have been made.
• Parties that OEH is in negotiations with for the head lease at Charlotte Pass have confirmed that existing sub-lessees will be offered first right of refusal for new leases. Obviously this is contingent on a successful conclusion of negotiations.
• OEH is aware of concerns from stakeholders including lodge lessees, sub-lessees and club members at Charlotte Pass about the ability to take future bookings.
• OEH recommends that sub-lessees may take waitlist bookings for the 2018 ski season. If negotiations conclude positively then sub- lessees may be able to confirm waitlist bookings subject to negotiation and confirmation of sub-leases.
• OEH anticipates that a further announcement on the progress of negotiations will be made early in the ski season.
• The current head lessee maintains its commitment to the successful operation of Charlotte Pass.
So where does that leave the NPWS and Perisher now?
NPWS were the ones who initiated the Governance Review. They currently run the Perisher Range in its present capacity, where they are the landlords and look after all the municipal services including the sewerage plant.
The Perisher Range Master Plan was finalised in the 2001-2002 Walker reports. It was suggested that NPWS not be the controlling body and that a head lease was a preferred method by private sector.
After consultation with all interested parties at Perisher it was confirmed that the community wanted a head lease operation, similar to what Thredbo Resort have who are the landlords of the entire village and mountain.
The NSW Government said they had a vision for the Perisher Range and Charlotte Pass Resorts to create a world-class tourism destination with year round visitor activities, that is financially sustainable and, given its location in Kosciuszko National Park, environmentally responsible.
Snowy Mountains Magazine asked Perisher Resort for a response but at this stage they only offered a prepared statement.
“Vail Resorts was pleased to work closely and productively with community groups through the Governance Review process in order to assist the NSW Government to achieve its vision for Perisher to be a world class, environmentally and commercially sustainable year-round alpine destination. Vail Resorts remains committed to working with the community and the NSW Government to achieve this vision.
Vail Resorts does not make any comment on the confidential Expression of Interest process conducted by the NSW Government.”
It is believed that Perisher Chamber of Commerce, Perisher Slopes and Perisher Resort will be attending a meeting in July with the NSW Government to ask questions as to why a head lease was not granted.
It is not clear how many parties submitted an expressions of interest for the head lease. But it is feasible that Perisher might have been the only company willing to take on such a huge task. After all, they are the major player with the lift company and it would be in their best interest to finally have some control of the entire valley which consists of Smiggin Holes and Guthega.
If Perisher were the only interested party, perhaps the NPWS misjudged how much a company would be willing to pay to have the head lease.
NPWS receive large income through bed taxes and fees from all businesses in the Perisher Range. Apart from this revenue, they also accumulate millions of dollars per year through entrance fees through the National Parks gates. (The gate fees were not up for review or part of head lease).
So any future development and increase in visitation is all additional revenue in their pocket.
The issue for a new village has always been about beds, and considering Perisher have the undisputed most skier visits of any resort in Australia, the Perisher Range is well behind in bed numbers in the valley in comparison to other resorts.
Any new village was expected to deliver over 800 new beds and a total of about 4800 beds, which would still not be near some of the Victorian resort bed numbers. NPWS would need to upgrade services including the sewerage works for any increase in bed numbers.
Perisher have a lease for their lift system on NPWS land up until 2068. The actual car park and all other land including overseeing commercial lodges and all club lodges remains with the NPWS.
So in effect NPWS are the ones responsible for granting any development of a new village, should a developer be interested in stumping up huge funds to build any village scenario.
Now that the NPWS are continuing in its current situation, they would be expected to produce this ‘Vision’ that they have outlined.
In a recent Snowy Mountains Magazine interview with Perisher Chief Operating Officer Peter Brulisauer, Mr Brulisauer said, “In the head lease model one of the great things is that the lift company that has the most capital in the resort and therefore wants to ensure the success of the resort. It has the ability to set a vision for the resort and come up with master plans for the resort for the mountain and for the village.”
Mr Brulisauer also stated, “If the Perisher village doesn’t result from the governance review, then I think whoever is in charge of village planning post the governance review is going to have to have a good look at that, and sort it out. It needs to be sorted out and they (community) have told the government that.”
Snowy Mountains Magazine have requested an interview with NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who is also the local State Member for Monaro and the Minister for Regional NSW. Mr Barilaro has been an advocate of a village and change for Perisher.
At the rate the NSW Government has performed over the past 20 odd years in this village situation, it needs to be questioned why it has dragged on so long.
When asked previously about the relationship Perisher have with State Government and Mr Barilaro, Mr Brulisauer said, “John really understands the importance of the Australian alpine industry to his electorate of the Monaro, and he has been a good supporter of the industry and the region in the past, and I am pretty sure he understands the importance of this issue to Perisher and the local electorate.”
The original ‘Village Master Plan’ has been on the drawing board for well over two decades. They even had models created that were wind tunnel tested to see where snow loading would occur. The village was to be a five stage build that would have been at least 10 years in the building, more likely 13 years.
Stage one was to be a building that spanned from the two walking bridges on the car park side of the creek. This is still the most likely starting point for any village which would be a minimum of two years.
NPWS were contacted for a phone interview but declined to offer anyone to talk to. They offered this prepared statement from a NPWS spokesman.
• One of the outcomes of the Governance Review is that no head lease or management agreement was will be granted over Perisher Range Resorts at this time.
• Perisher Blue Pty Ltd (the current leaseholder) will hold its existing interest in the Consolidated Mountain Lease and Licence until 2068.
• OEH will continue to manage the individual commercial and club leases and deliver municipal services
• There will be no change to the current arrangements for lodges and businesses at Perisher Ranger Resorts in the short to medium term.
• Negotiations are continuing for a head lease for Charlotte Pass Resort.
It has proven very difficult to actually talk to anyone in head office of NPWS who has anything to do with decision making or authority.
It would be nice to talk to someone and see how they answer some direct questions. This scenario of the Perisher Village ever being built has now become a huge embarrassment to the NSW Government and the NPWS who cannot get the job done.
They may fail to realise that the snow industry is a huge revenue maker for them, and that all the loyal Perisher visitors over decades have all craved improvements in the whole area, including a village.
Perisher snow enthusiasts would just like the NPWS and NSW Government to have the same passion as Perisher and Vail Resorts have for the snow industry, along with their tens of thousands of season pass holders who await improvements.