HOW best to deal with the caravan and camping sector is proving to be a contentious issue for South Gippsland Shire Council. Matters will come to a head at the council meeting today, with council due to vote on the Recreational Vehicle (RV) Strategy. The result is unlikely to please everyone.
The Draft RV Strategy was presented to Council last December and then went on public exhibition. Some of the feedback received during the community consultation period was incorporated into the final Strategy, but some, as was pointed out in a public presentation to Council last Wednesday, was rejected.
In her presentation, Acting Secretary of the Foster Community Association Viv Jones spoke on behalf of the FCA in arguing the case for Foster to become a designated ‘RV Friendly’ town. She expressed bitter disappointment at the brick wall the FCA has come up against in its negotiations with Council over the use of a section of Foster Station Park for overnight RV parking.
She said that in 2011, when the Foster Station Park concept was formed, there was a proposal for an area of the park (which is Crown Land) to be set aside for overnight RV parking. The relevant state government department (then known as the Department of Sustainability and Environment or DSE) had no basic objection, but noted that as the land was reserved for the Rail Trail, it would be reluctant to give permission to a voluntary organisation such as the Foster Station Park Committee of Management taking charge and would need the shire to take responsibility.
“We approached Paul Stampton [Council’s Manager Strategic Planning and Development] last July, asking for his support, not knowing a strategy was about to be prepared and were told to wait on the outcome. In the meantime, we worked very hard to achieve all the essential criteria required to become a recognised CMCA [Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia] RV Friendly Town,” said Ms Jones.
“We worked closely with Keith Moxam, Director of CMCA, who has agreed that because Foster has the basic criteria of access to a hospital, medical facilities, pharmacy, shopping and fuel supplies, he would supply and pay for installation of a dump easy point, and a local service station has agreed to house it and maintain it free of cost. We only needed Council to agree to take responsibility for the vacant block of land. No land – no free dump point.”
Ms Jones said that the FCA was disappointed in Council’s apparent reluctance to consider Foster Station Park and discuss the matter with the relevant government department (now the Department of Environment and Primary Industries or DEPI).
“We understand Council’s reluctance because of the cost that may be involved, but with agreements between all the interested parties we feel these costs would be minimal as the Foster Station Park Committee maintains the area at present.”
Ms Jones said that RVs already dot Foster’s streets on many nights and there is, she asserted, a need for a more secure area for them. Foster Station Park fits the bill. She added that tourism is a mainstay of Foster’s economy and RVs should be encouraged.
“All the shop owners we approached fully supported RV overnight parking at Foster Station Park, and their signatures were added to our submission,” she said.
“As ratepayers we are very conscience of Council’s budget so therefore cannot understand Council’s reluctance to support Foster’s efforts, which could present them with a free camping and dump point, plus the added value of ongoing free publicity Australia wide promoting the Prom Country area.”
In her eloquently argued address to Council, Ms Jones concluded: “On behalf of the Foster community, I urge you to reconsider your position and offer Foster the opportunity to become an RV friendly town, with the hope there will be many more to follow in the future, showing that South Gippsland is finally “open for business”.
Afterwards, Coastal Promontory Ward councillor Mohya Davies told The Mirror that the management issues around Foster Station Park needed to be sorted out with DEPI , and only then could SGSC, the park’s committee of management and the Rail Trail committee work towards consideration of the park as an overnight stopping point for RVs.
“I am hopeful that one day Foster can become an RV Friendly Town, but a lot has to happen first,” she said. Cr Davies pointed out that the RV Strategy will be reviewed next year and suggested that would be an appropriate time to revisit the proposal and possibly amend the Strategy.