ONE of the most controversial issues South Gippsland Shire Council has faced in recent years came to a head at last Wednesday’s council meeting with the adoption of the Recreational Vehicle (RV) Strategy.
The Strategy was adopted with an amendment put forward by Cr Andrew McEwen. The amendment encourages Council to consider budgeting up to $3000 each for dump points for RVs and caravans “in towns at a site approved by Council and other relevant authorities with appropriate operational controls”.
The Draft RV Strategy was presented to Council’s December meeting and attracted extensive feedback when it went on public exhibition and a community consultation period was held in January and February. There were 68 responses via the online submission form and 12 written responses. Much of the feedback has been incorporated into the final RV Strategy.
Even on the morning of the meeting a handful of people took the opportunity to argue their case in a public presentation to Council.
Speaking first, Foster resident David Jones, who is the local CFA captain and a member of the Foster Station Park Advisory Committee, spoke in support of the Foster Community Association’s bid to have part of Station Park set aside for overnight parking for self-contained RVs. He said the park has a lot going for it, with maintenance carried out by volunteers; easy access, including for emergency vehicles; fire breaks and access to reticulated water across the road in the unlikely event of fire; the security provided by high visibility; and there is general support for the proposal from neighbours.
Mr Jones said that the Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) had promised a dump site free of charge for Foster and a local service station had agreed to house it and maintain it free of cost. There would be virtually no cost to the shire, he asserted, if Foster was declared RV-friendly, but the benefits to Foster would be immeasurable. He said that Yarram already had RV-friendly status and Garry Stephens from that town’s chamber of commerce said the results were all positive.
To loud applause from the public gallery, where eight or ten supporters were seated, Mr Jones asked Council to amend the RV Strategy to allow all towns to apply for RV-friendly status, not just those towns without commercial caravan parks.
Irene Spooner, proprietor of Toora Newsagency, did not mince her words. “I think the whole shire should be fighting to be RV friendly,” she declared. “The shire motto is ‘Come for the beauty…stay for the lifestyle.’ We have everything and we shouldn’t restrict how our visitors come here. Let them come. Let’s make our area as friendly as possible.”
“It should not be ‘stay if you pay,’” she quipped, again to loud applause from the gallery.
The next speaker, Karen Barwick, said she had no vested interest but simply lived opposite the Franklin River Reserve and wished to speak in support of the RV Strategy. She applauded the shire for developing a Strategy, saying she had spoken to some of the many RV travellers who use the Franklin River Reserve. They don’t want, she said, to be forced to use a caravan park, but they do spend money in local businesses, and in her experience leave the reserve clean and tidy. She urged Council to continue to allow free camping at the Reserve (as is set out in the RV Strategy) and to take a lead in becoming an RV-friendly shire.
A contrasting view was put forward by the proprietors of Toora Tourist Park, but Rachel and Andrew Brown did not speak themselves. Rachel Brown got Fenna Van Der Meulen to read a letter on her behalf. In her letter she explained that she had had such a hostile reaction last time she argued the case against Council support of free camping at places like Franklin River Reserve, this time she would present her view through an intermediary.
Ms Brown said she supported Council’s plan to investigate further free/low cost sites in towns that do not have caravan parks, but said Foster’s bid for camping at Station Park in an attempt to gain RV-friendly status was in direct competition to the local caravan park and should not be supported. She suggested that Foster businesses wanting to attract the tourism dollar should start by joining the local and regional tourism bodies – the Prom Coast Tourism Association and Prom Country Regional Tourism – which lobby for just that and yet struggle for membership from any local businesses other than accommodation providers.
Speaking to The Mirror after the RV Strategy was adopted, Ms Brown was particularly scathing of Cr McEwen’s amendment supporting dump sites at a cost of $3000 a pop to be borne by Council. She branded it “ludicrous”, saying that if towns wanted a dump site they should pay for it and not ratepayers. “Meanwhile, Council is closing pools…What a waste of money,” she declared.
The president of the Foster Community Association, Jill Plowright, said she welcomed the RV Strategy but was concerned that it didn’t go far enough in supporting bids for RV-friendly status from towns such as Foster.
“The Strategy is a step forward, but there is still a lot we need to work on. Nobody wants to take responsibility for free parking for RVs,” she said, adding that the FCA will continue to work towards achieving RV-friendly status for Foster.
“The Strategy says the right things, but Council appears unwilling to take responsibility,” chipped in fellow FCA member. “We need the political will.”