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Free camping at what cost

SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council is facing strong opposition from commercial caravan park proprietors to its plans to expand camping opportunities in the shire.

Submissions to the draft Recreational Vehicle (RV) Strategy close this Friday, but already caravan park proprietors from across South Gippsland have let Council know in no uncertain terms how they feel.

A joint submission has been prepared by representatives of Toora Tourist Park, Prom Central Caravan Park at Foster, Long Jetty Caravan Park at Port Welshpool, and the parks at Waratah Bay, Shallow Inlet, Korumburra, Venus Bay, Leongatha and Yanakie, and last Wednesday Rachel Brown from Toora Tourist Park addressed Council in person, supported by Drew Studham from Prom Central CP.

Broadly speaking, they took issue with two of the Strategy’s recommendations in particular, one being the “creation of a network of free camping reserves”. This would see “free camping” allowed at the Franklin River Reserve, Bass Valley Camping Ground and Buckley Park in Fish Creek. A maximum stay of two nights would apply.

They also objected to the planned installation of a dump point in Meeniyan for the use of the RV market, arguing that with the exception of Waratah and Sandy Point, South Gippsland Shire has sufficient dump points readily available.

“We believe that the shire should support existing commercial caravan parks as a priority over providing free or low cost services to the RV community,” said Ms Brown. “It is important that the existing caravan parks continue to grow and invest, as this provides jobs and investment in local communities.”

She quoted statistics showing that people staying in commercial caravan parks contribute more to the local community than those staying in free or low cost venues.

She warned that the shire managed sites of Franklin River Reserve and Bass Valley and the proposed Buckley Park are a cost to the shire “and should their usage increase then these costs will increase”.

There was also a cost, she pointed out, in installation and maintenance of a dump point, and “it is not reasonable for ratepayers to cover this cost”.

She said that now that the shire was allowing camping at Franklin River Reserve, through February there had regularly been 10 different camping vehicles staying there each night. During this time none of the surrounding caravan parks were at capacity. “Based on an average nightly site rate of $35 this is $350 per night of revenue lost to a caravan park. Based on independent research this translates to $483 per day of lost local economic activity and a loss of $200 in average daily spend of each camper to the local community,” said Ms Brown. Extrapolating these figures, she argued that it meant as much as $82,000 of lost economic activity for the local community per annum.

The financial side, however, is only part of the argument against “free camping,” insisted Ms Brown on behalf of the caravan parks.

There are issues with safety, water, risk, waste, maintenance and fire.

With no one to look after them, sites can quickly become degraded, and this, she maintained, was already becoming the case at the Franklin River Reserve. “Free campers” have disrupted the picnic plans of locals, making the once scenic spot unsightly with their rubbish and general paraphernalia.

Ms Brown’s case was supported by the next speaker. The CEO of the Victorian Caravan Parks Association, Elizabeth White, reiterated that there should be a level playing field. Caravan park owners, she pointed out, have to meet all sorts of rules and regulations. There is a reason for this and there are costs involved. There is, she said, no such thing as “free camping”. Ultimately, someone has to pay – and in the absence of anyone else it is likely to be ratepayers. She warned that the public liability costs could be substantial – and in the absence of a caravan park owner such costs could fall to the shire council, and ultimately ratepayers. She suggested that South Gippsland Shire Council look at what other councils are doing. Greater Geelong, for example, after commissioning an independent report, decided not to provide “free camping”.

Speaking on behalf of the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia, Keith Moxham said that there were noticeably few no-frills sites suitable for self-contained vehicles in South Gippsland and this situation should be remedied.

He said that the RV market was growing and there were benefits in this for everyone, commercial caravan parks included. He quoted the example of Moira Shire in northern Victoria, which manages to have both successful commercial caravan parks and towns which are officially ‘RV friendly.’

Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks spoke up after Ms Brown’s presentation, saying that he felt strongly that there was an economic case for “free camping” and he could not support the case put forward by the commercial caravan parks. With similar (though somewhat watered down) sentiments expressed by several other councillors, Rachel Brown said later that she was bitterly disappointed at the reception she had had. “I can’t help feeling that the councillors have already made up their minds and are not open to taking our case into account,” she said.

Discussion

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  1. I have just spent the weekend camping at franklin River. I was most impressed with the clean and tidy state of the park. I did not see any rubbish of any kind at all. The bins were emptied Monday morning and the campers were quiet and well behaved. I would not stay in a commercial camp ground in this area. While 4 of us did “camp” for free we spent a large amount of money in the local communities. The Foster market, bakery, bottle shop and super market. Then while travelling around checking out garage sales in Foster and Toora we bought petrol and ice and snacks in Toora. How can a commercial venture have such input into a decision that has no impact on them? I know as I spoke to many people in the park that they would not have stopped in the area if the only choice was a ‘pay’ camp site. These travellers bring a lot to the local communities and leave a clean camp for the next person. I imagine if all communities took this selfish/money driven attitude then small areas will suffer. Point in reference, Walhalla that has the local B & B owners trying to prevent free camping in the area by placing signs saying ‘No Camping’ around that are not even legal. The result of such narrow minded commercial ventures has seen a huge drop in tourism in the area and small stores struggling to make ends meet. Just check out the Facebook site for Walhalla and see the tiny crowd in the North Gardens over the long weekend. I camp there 6-8 times a year and have noticed the decline in campers and day trippers over the years. Everyone has something to bring to an area in way of financial input, no matter how much they do or not spend on camping. The “grey nomads” spend years travelling and exploring this beautiful country of ours and all the while spending their hard earned money on local food, fuel tourism. Many commercial camp grounds have ruined it for themselves by having huge numbers of permanents and making sites way too small for the big vans, rigs and even the big tents that are so popular now, not to mention pricing so high that camping is no longer the cheap holiday that many families can enjoy. I hope that Council continues with the plans to include limited Free camping in the are and if so look forward to many more visits to this lovely area.

    Posted by Kerri Trotter | March 10, 2014, 6:16 pm