A MAJOR milestone has been reached for the Gunnedah Koala Sanctuary, with a development application (DA) being submitted and a first look provided.
Flanked by Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson, Gunnedah Shire Council mayor Jamie Chaffey announced new details about the site's koala hospital, how many visitors it is expected to attract per year and what additional features it will possess.
According to the plans, it will span 50 acres, include a shop, cafe, petting zoo, auditorium, aviary enclosure, picnic areas, a cultural heritage display and demonstration area, bush-themed mini-golf and zipline, caravan sites and safari tent accommodation.
As for the hospital, it will include up to 12 small animal enclosures, four small and two large intensive care units, seven pre-release enclosures and some external rehabilitation enclosures.
Cr Chaffey said he was excited the DA had been submitted, and believes the final product will draw a huge amount of visitors into town.
"The estimated visitation numbers suggest around 70,000 people per annum will come have a look which will deliver $15 million to our economy," he said
The safety of the sanctuary's animals is paramount, which is why 10,000 eucalyptus trees are being planted and a predator-proof fence will be erected.
Emus and kangaroos will be allowed to roam freely around the pond and picnic zone, but Cr Chaffey made it very clear who the star of the show would be.
"This wonderful project will not only provide a hospital to help address the health issues of our koalas and that of surrounding areas, but will give the world another reason to visit the koala capital of the world," he said.
"It will be a purpose-built koala sanctuary with a number of exciting innovations, including volunteers' accommodation with backpacker-style housing for up to 16 people, allowing people from around the country and the world to experience working with Australia's wildlife."
Council is building the facility and has stated it will be community owned, but has entered into a long-term partnership with operator CaPTA group, who will provide staff and the animals.
CaPTA group has experience in the sector, as they own Rainforestation Nature Park and Australian Butterfly Sanctuary - both in Kuranda, Queensland - as well as Cairns ZOOM and Wildlife Dome and Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas.
Group operations and project director, Michael Woodward, said his organisation jumped at the chance when they saw what was being done in Gunnedah.
"Having operated several wildlife parks and a wildlife care centres in far north Queensland, we have first-hand experience in the synergies of wildlife attractions and wildlife hospitals, particularly the potential for animal keepers to care for wildlife in need," he stated.
"When we heard about the vision of Gunnedah Shire Council to build a sanctuary to protect the vulnerable koala species, we were motivated by the prospect of saving the koala species whilst also increasing regional tourism."
The project has already secured $6.48 million through the NSW Government's Regional Social Benefit Infrastructure Fund, while council this week resolved to apply for a further $1.75 million through the Federal Government's Building Better Regions Fund.
The plans will now be made available for public comment as part of the State Government development approvals process.
The DA will be available to view on the NSW Planning Portal in the coming days.
The plans were designed by Dunn and Hillam Architects.