GUNNEDAH Shire Council mayor Jamie Chaffey has labelled tourism operator CaPTA's decision to pull out of the town's koala sanctuary project as a "disappointment", but said it was understandable.
The company, which owns and operates four wildlife parks in northern Queensland, has had to withdraw from the project due to financial difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was set to provide staff and run the park.
"It's completely understandable due to the complications of operating a tourism business in lockdowns, not just interstate lockdowns within Australia but also international lockdowns," he said.
"They've been working consistently with us now for a long period of time, and I'm sure the decision would have been very difficult for them to make."
Cr Chaffey remains confident the sanctuary will go ahead as planned with no changes to the timeline, and the final product will be something to be proud of.
"We have a great design and a really good location, the Gunnedah Shire Council executive and councillors will get together next week and discuss what modifications we might make to our plan forward," he said.
"But I anticipate that we'll continue on once the development application is approved in the coming weeks, we'll start construction and we'll be seeking a new partner as we're constructing the facility.
"Our focus at council and for our community is to make sure we've got a facility built that's state of the art, that's based on the rehabilitation, and the care and conservation of our native wildlife and specifically the koala."
It remains a mystery as to when another suitor will come in to fill the role of tourism operator, but Cr Chaffey is staying optimistic.
"I can't say at this point in time whether we will find it difficult or whether we'll be swamped with people showing interest to come and operate this facility that will be owned by Gunnedah residents," he said.
"Time will tell but history shows that if one door closes another one will open."
The planned sanctuary is located on a 50-acre bushland site on the Oxley Highway, and includes a koala hospital and sanctuary.
About 10,000 trees have already been planted for use as food trees at plantation sites for the koalas.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: