The Mirror News

Caravan park compliance juggernaut rolls on

IT IS proving a rocky road at times, but the upgrade to the Yanakie and Long Jetty Caravan Parks to meet multiple compliance requirements is rolling on, with South Gippsland Shire Council investing extensive time and effort into the project.

Audits on safety measures, the development of programmed maintenance and the provision of much needed capital improvement works have all been undertaken and supported by an overarching business plan.

The key focus, along with necessary improvements, has been working with current site users to ensure their holiday accommodation at the now council-run caravan parks is of an appropriate level of safety and complies with relevant building codes and crown land regulations. This has not been an easy road for Council or for the long-term site users, and challenges are expected to remain for some time as the necessary works are undertaken and appropriate approvals sought to achieve these standards.

Shire CEO Tim Tamlin explained: “Our key focus at all times has been on communicating openly and honestly with the site users about what is required to ensure their assets and the parks in general are brought up to satisfactory level of compliance. The parks are public assets that are required to be open and accessible to all members of the public, and the policy direction we must follow is clear. The flexibility to choose a site, expand that site and add permanent fixtures is no longer an option. Council is committed to working with site users to improve the parks and ensure they are managed in a way that is respectful to their coastal locations.”

It was back in April last year that Council resolved to take over the management of both parks, in a bid to ensure compliance with relevant government policy and guarantee their future success.

“The decision was not taken lightly, nor without consideration for what lay ahead,” said Mr Tamlin. “The management leases for each park were due to expire, and in considering the expressions of interest received to continue an ongoing lease model and the phase of change required at both sites, it was determined that Council would be best placed to manage the transition.”

The policy direction comes from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries’ ‘Improving Equity of Access in Crown Land Caravan Parks’ policy. It came into effect in 2010 and seeks to ensure that affordable holidays on Crown land are available to as many people as possible. Permanent residence and structures are not permitted under the Policy to ensure equitable use of the land for all Victorians.

Under the Policy, all caravans and other dwellings in Crown land caravan parks must be “registrable” (i.e. with VicRoads under the Road Safety Act 1986). Dwellings such as fixed cabins and other immoveable structures that cannot be registered are not permitted. Since taking over the caravan parks, Council has been committed to ensuring compliance and working with site users to achieve this.

This was reconfirmed on November 7, when a self-appointed committee from the Yanakie Caravan Park met with council representatives to discuss their concerns. Site users have been given12 months (from July 2014) to make agreed and documented progression towards compliance, and an additional six months to achieve full compliance should they wish to remain in the park. Cabin owners have been offered the same compliance timelines, but must permanently remove their structures from the parks by September 2016.

“We have reviewed the situation many times and considered every option feasible to provide the best outcomes for long term site users. Unfortunately, at the end of every deliberation, we came back to the simple fact that cabins are not permitted and caravans with rigid annexes must be compliant. Site users are free to disagree with the position of Council, however it doesn’t provide them the right to disregard the compliance requirements purely because they don’t like the message we are conveying,” said a determined Mr Tamlin.

Several other committees of management have had to face this same transition process already. Many others will be confronted with it in the near future as 21-year lease periods enforced by the State start to expire.

“I have been through this process and it is not an easy one,” said the former president of the committee of management at Seaspray, David Nolan. He has thrown his experienced support behind Council and the current issues being faced, pointing out that all Council is doing is complying with State Government policy direction and regulations.

“The Policy seeks to ensure equity of access to public land for all,” said Mr Nolan. “It is an unfortunate reality that those site users who had been in the park for many years may need to give their site up to allow new users to visit. Seaspray Foreshore Caravan Park was closed down due to a variety of non-compliant issues. I totally understand and support what the council is trying to do by proactively working with the parks users to address these matters.”

The former CEO of Bellarine Bayside Foreshore Committee of Management, Tim Page-Walker, echoes these sentiments. Council has worked closely with Mr Page-Walker, who for nine years managed six coastal Crown land parks with over 300 annual permit holders, calling on his invaluable experience to ensure the transition for parks in South Gippsland is as smooth as possible.

“The most difficult management decisions when running parks are those that impact on the campers personally. Initiating and maintaining a continual dialogue to explain WHY changes have to happen is challenging, as there is always a lot of individual hurt involved,” acknowledged Mr Page-Walker.

He added: “What campers need to understand is that what has happened in the past isn’t always right, and in today’s world compliance to safety regulations and other government requirements are there to protect the campers, their families, other campers, visitors and park workers. Nine times out of ten, compliance is not negotiable, because by not complying, who is being put at risk?”

While Council continues to liaise and work with the site users who are most significantly impacted, many others who have already reached compliance and new visitors to the caravan parks have offered their support and positive words.

Mr Tamlin was pleased to note glowing reports on the improvements witnessed at the parks. One couple commented that Yanakie CP is the best it’s ever been in their time there.

“The Melbourne Cup weekend marked the start of our peak season and by all reports was extremely successful, with both parks busy and vibrant,” he said. “I have no doubt that it will take some time, a lot of hard work and many more conversations, but I am confident that both parks will thrive with a great mix of longstanding annuals and new customers. We are even pursuing the idea of creating ‘Friends’ groups for each park to embrace the spirit and enthusiasm that is clearly evident.”

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