SWATHS of farmland along the Great Ocean Road are set to be developed for resort-style hotels, "high-end, nature-based tourism accommodation" and other tourism facilities as part of a massive plan to boost the area's economic development.
In far-reaching planning changes, Corangamite Shire Council has sent an application to the Baillieu government to rezone about 1155 hectares of land across 20 sites — including key sites along the Great Ocean Road — to allow for more tourism accommodation.
Sites include 50 hectares to the west of Port Campbell targeted for a four-or-five-star, resort-style hotel development.
Other areas include sites near Peterborough, Skipton, Mount Elephant, Mount Widderin Caves, Timboon, Princetown East and Moonlight West (south-east of Princetown).
An expert planning panel last year advised the council against rezonings at six of the sites — including the Port Campbell west site — but last month the council rejected the advice and voted to rezone all 20 sites.
"What they [the panel] had worried about was the perceived impact on the Great Ocean Road precinct, we quite frankly did not agree with the panel's opinion," Corangamite mayor Matt Makin said.
He said the council wanted tourists to make a greater contribution to the local economy.
"For us this planning scheme amendment is all about economic development and addressing the appalling low yield that the region receives from what is the third most visited tourist site in the nation," he said.
He said the area had a "huge gap in accommodation of four-and-five-star level" and in bulk accommodation and said the Port Campbell west location was suitable for an "RACV resort-style development".
"The visual impact of these sites on the Great Ocean Road in particular is next to non-existent," he said.
He said buildings would only be allowed on 90 hectares of the land rezoned.
Port Campbell Community Groups secretary Marion Manifold said the council had opened the door for "speculative tourism development".
"Any development will want the views — so the developments will be seen along the coast," she said.
Julie Brazier, who has run a surf and clothing store in Port Campbell for 24 years, said visitors were attracted by the lack of development. "What the visitors come here for and what we have identified over decades of planning is people want a sense of isolation," she said.
She said the actual demand was for bed-and-breakfast and farm-stay accommodation.
Simon Branigan from the Victorian National Parks Association said: "Corangamite shire is proposing a meteor shower of tourism developments with no strategic underpinning which will damage the Great Ocean Road's environmental brand — the very reason why tourists visit the area," he said.
But the chief executive of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, Dianne Smith, welcomed the tourism development plan for the Great Ocean Road and said similar planning changes should be rolled in to other key Victorian tourist sites.
"Particularly the area around Wilsons Promontory, they have actually started to move in this direction," she said.