Tourism restrictions to be eased in Victoria's parks and farmland

VICTORIAN parks and farmland will be opened up to more private development as the state government moves to ease restrictions on B&Bs, restaurants and other tourism businesses.

The Sunday Age believes limits on the number of beds and visitors allowed in prized destinations around the state will be lifted as part of a plan to boost international visitor numbers.

Under the changes, the government is expected to:

■ Allow a greater range of uses in regional Victoria and green-wedge zones.

■ Increase the permit-free threshold for B&Bs from six rooms to 10.

■ Remove a requirement for accommodation and restaurants to be ''in conjunction with'' agriculture.

■ Remove limits on the number of patrons allowed in accommodation or restaurants in rural conservation zones (land outside country towns).

The changes are expected to be announced by Treasurer Kim Wells in coming days, as part of his long-awaited response to an inquiry by the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission on ''unlocking Victoria's tourism''. The report had warned the government that tourism operators were being constrained by red tape - Victoria, for instance, is the only state that prohibits private tourism development in national parks.

Dianne Smith, chief executive of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, said easing restrictions would allow operators to grow.

Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Nick Roberts said he had no problem with more tourism - provided it did not involve commercial development in national parks.

Opposition treasury spokesman Tim Holding said Labor had initiated the VCEC inquiry while in government and remained ''strongly supportive of any reasonable measure which facilitates future tourism investment and jobs''.