After sealing an alliance with two Chinese-backed groups to provide development and financial backing, Far North Queensland’s Aquis project is moving closer to the $2 billion first stage development.

For many, Tony Fung’s proposed $8.15 billion Aquis Great Barrier Reef Casino and Resort at Yorkeys Knob in Cairns is variously demonised as an alien-looking construction in one of the world’s most ecologically diverse beauty spots.

On the other hand it is welcomed for the number of local jobs it will create and for the likely rise in house prices and values.

Initially, the 343 hectare development included eight hotels with a total of 7500 rooms, two casinos, an artificial lake, an artificial island, a golf course, shops, an aquarium, theatres and numerous other recreation facilities.

Back then fears were voiced by concerned Cairns citizens, politicians and environmentalists about the impact it would have on the region and significantly on the Great Barrier Reef, already threatened by human activity. Concern was also raised about the two casino licenses and the impact they may have.

Aquis say they have had many personal conversations with Cairns citizens. Awareness campaigns have been held, lobby groups formed, planning and environment experts consulted, politicians embroiled and sabres rattled.

If the respondents to The Cairns Post, State of the Far North survey are anything to go by, (56per cent said yes and 36.05 said no and 8.16 per cent weren’t sure), then the development does have local backing.

Now, things are set to go ahead without the proposed flagship casino with Aquis, in an effort to fast-track the development, withdrawing the Integrated Resort Development process, which is necessary to get approval for a casino. For the time being!

Tourism Tropical North Queensland executive officer Alex de Waal said that Aquis would be especially attractive for business event delegates from the Chinese market.

“The Chinese market is developing rapidly, but our annual percentage increases of Chinese visitors are not as large as other Australian destinations with direct airline services,” citing Aquis as a game changer and one that the Cairns & Great Barrier Reef tourism industry is keen to go ahead.

“Importantly it will be the catalyst for year-round direct services between Cairns and China which will allow our region to aggressively pursue a larger share of the 200 million outbound Chinese travellers predicted by 2020. Direct flights will further boost the lucrative incentive market which has been growing from China.

“We have just experienced an extraordinarily successful Chinese New Year with double the number of charter flights from the previous year demonstrating the demand for our destination,” he revealed.

“The Cairns & Great Barrier Reef destination is the antithesis to China – we have a relaxed and welcoming culture in a pristine environment where we balance our work with an outdoor lifestyle.

“Our blue-sky destination also has two natural World Heritage areas with an incredible array of experiences.

“With just eight hours flying time, our location is perfect and Aquis will add yet another attraction for the luxury-hungry Chinese.”

For now, the start of the project is all down to guess work, however with the removal of the huge casino from the development and if plans meet requirements, construction on the $2 billion first stage could start next year.