Caravan park deadline

A FINAL deadline for permit payment is looming for annual site holders at the Council-run Yanakie and Long Jetty (Port Welshpool) caravan parks, as the parks are dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

South Gippsland Shire Council has recently written to all annual site holders who have not yet returned their signed 2015/16 annual site holder permits, giving them 21 days to do so before Council engages legal representatives to recover the outstanding fees.

A significant number of site holders [for “significant” read “more than half” acknowledged a council spokesperson] have not returned their permits or paid their fees, which were due last September. There are some site holders who have not even paid their 2014/15 fees in full.

“In representing the South Gippsland community, it is important that Council collects the appropriate fees from its customers to ensure that the ratepayer is not covering the costs,” said a council spokesperson.

At the same time he insisted that Councillors were united in their confidence that Council had done the right thing in taking over management of the parks nearly two years ago.

This is despite significant opposition to Council’s management of the parks, expressed through submissions to Council and letters to the local press (and presumably by withholding payments due). Some feel so strongly they are taking legal action in the Supreme Court.

Council has provided quarterly updates on progress at the parks under its management. The next one will be delivered on February 24. In addition, consultants are in the process of preparing master plans for each of the parks. Due to be presented to Council for adoption before the end of the budget year, they will include business plans indicating when the parks are expected to make a profit and what capital investment is needed. They will be made public in the draft stage.

In the meantime, because caravan park management has become such a hot topic of late, Council held a media briefing last Friday to address the issue. Representing Council was the manager of economic development and tourism, Danny McDonald, along with director of development services Bryan Sword, and communications and engagement officer Danielle Thompson.

Council, said Mr McDonald, made the decision to take over management of the caravan parks in 2014 because “future caravan park revenue provides Council, as the Committee of Management, with the opportunity to make capital improvements in the parks and improvements to the foreshore reserve which may not be forthcoming under private management”.

“Council’s vision for the Yanakie and Long Jetty foreshore caravan parks is to maximise the benefit of these Crown Land assets for residents and visitors to Gippsland, by making them available for as many people as possible to enjoy and at the same time enhancing the tourism experience our shire has to offer.”

Mr McDonald and Mr Sword acknowledged that fewer annual permits had been issued at both parks since Council took over, but pointed out that any loss of income was offset to some extent by a growth in the number of casual visitors to the parks, particularly to Yanakie. The consultants’ master plans are expected to examine the pros and cons of long-term versus short-term accommodation at the parks, including the economic impact on the Corner Inlet community.

“Council is committed to realising its intent, which is to provide a quality tourism experience and generate greater economic outputs for South Gippsland,” said Mr McDonald.

Mr Sword said that Council manages the parks in accordance with the Residential Tenancies (Caravan Parks and Moveable Dwellings Regulations and Standards) Regulations 2010 and the State Government’s Policy and Guidelines for Crown Land Caravan Parks.

As an information sheet on the council website points out, during the period in which it has been in charge Council has encountered numerous challenges relating to safety and compliance and ageing infrastructure at the parks. Some of these challenges include:

  • Location of underground assets (plumbing, electricity).
  • Inappropriate electricity cabling and connections.
  • Capacity of septic systems.
  • Condition and hygiene of water tanks for drinking water.
  • Amount of LP gas on site.
  • Water supply, chemical handling and treatment.
  • Age of hot water service.
  • Condition and maintenance of essential services (fire hydrants, dedicated water supply).
  • Condition of on-site private dwellings / vans and compliance with Regulations.
  • Health and condition of vegetation.
  • Proximity of trees to on-site private dwellings / vans and compliance with CFA performance measures.

Giving itself a deadline of March 2016, Council has been endeavouring to bring the caravan park infrastructure up to standard, and site holders have had two years in which to bring their dwellings up to standard, too.

Mr Sword said that Council was taking “every reasonable step” to ensure the parks were run in accordance with the guidelines. He said that Council risked its reputation if the parks were not up to standard.

Among the capital improvements at Yanakie are a new playground, power head replacement, solar hot water service and a renovated camp kitchen. Long Jetty Caravan Park has had an electrical upgrade, improved access to the recreation room, a new playground, revegetation and rejuvenation of vacated sites. Further improvements will be made in accordance with the master plans.

Online reviews of the caravan parks vary considerably, ranging from the highly complimentary to the downright dismissive. So much so that you can’t help wondering if the patrons are talking about the same parks! The majority, however, are positive. Here’s a sample:

“John” said that he had stayed at Yanakie CP with his family in January and was very disappointed, having been led to believe the park was located on a lovely beach, whereas it was stony with “oodles of seaweed and stinky”. Furthermore, “amenities not cleaned in all the time we were there and no toilet paper so byo! Grotty showers and barely any hot water.”

Strangely enough, “Geemaria, from Leeds, UK” stayed at Yanakie at much the same time and gave a vastly different review. “Stayed here for two nights camping. Katie at reception was incredibly nice and gave us a warm welcome. The kitchen and bathroom facilities were great and very clean. There were plenty of plugs for charging and the beach was a good fishing spot. Would definitely stay here again. Is close to Wilsons Promontory which was nice.”

Another visitor commented on Yanakie CP: “I love this place. My wife and I spend as much time as possible here. We have a twelve month permit. There are many excellent sites available both on the beach and in more sheltered positions amongst the trees. The wildlife is exceptional and we just love watching the variety of birds.” He added: “I’m not sure whether I want the park to improve or not. It is so lovely to have the place to ourselves most of the time.”

Another patron, who stayed a month ago, remarked: “Great park, well maintained and clean. Right on the beach with easy access. The staff, Craig and Katie, were really friendly and very helpful with places to see. Wilsons Prom is close by. We are going back again we liked it so much.”

A couple who visited Yanakie in November commented: “A very neat and tidy caravan park right on the water front. Toilet block is very clean. Very friendly and helpful management. Great spot to head into the national park on Wilsons Promontory. Thankyou.”

A WA couple enjoyed their stay at Yanakie last November: “Great park with lots of room. Reasonable amenities. Easy access to the beach and within driving distance of the National Park. Thank you for your warm welcome and friendly service. We really enjoyed our stay and will recommend to fellow travellers.”

“Olga” from Belgium stayed at Yanakie last September. She commented: “Even though we got there after office hours, we were received with a very warm, friendly smile and felt at home right away. Located only a few minutes from the Wilsons Prom N.P, this caravan park is a perfect and affordable gateway. The sites are right near the beach so you can enjoy a wonderful sunrise and a nice evening stroll.”

Long Jetty Caravan Park is generally quieter than Yanakie, but it has its fans, particularly among the fishing community.

Two weeks ago a visitor from Stawell stayed at the park and commented: “Great park, staff friendly and helpful. Park neat and tidy with clean amenities, within walking distance of everything in town. Grass sites. With plenty of room. Nice walk to hotel for a meal and view of the jetty. Would recommend a stay.”

A Newcastle visitor who stayed in November remarked: “Lovely well-kept park with clean amenities, and a natural bush setting beside the calm waters of Port Welshpool. Cabins are well appointed, very clean and neat and everything works which is sometimes a bonus these days in many parks. Staff are friendly and approachable with great advice on local attractions and where to get the best deals for meals. Bring your own linen for cabins and it is quite a reasonably priced stay in the off season. Would recommend for a serene stay and base for touring the region as well as a must for fishing enthusiasts.”

Mr Sword said that Council was happy to meet with customers on an individual basis prior to the deadline for payment to discuss and consider the permit holders’ specific circumstances, should they be experiencing difficulties in meeting their obligation. This, he said, was in line with Council’s Rates and Charges Hardship Policy. Council has already approved some payment plans in good faith.

A footnote: Waratah Bay Caravan Park is currently leased to private operators, but the lease expires in December 2017. Council is the Committee of Management for the Crown Land where the park is situated and is currently reviewing the options for the park’s future management, one option being to take it over – as if managing two caravan parks wasn’t enough of a headache!