South Gippsland Shire Council formally adopted its 30-page “leadership piece” South Gippsland Coastal Strategy at the open council meeting held in Leongatha on Wednesday afternoon, September 20, 2023.
The Coastal Strategy provides strategic direction for the planning of South Gippsland’s coastal areas, including for the coastal communities of Sandy Point, Waratah Bay, Walkerville, Venus Bay, Port Franklin and Port Welshpool.
The Strategy has been developed and informed by extensive community consultation, beginning with the release of the Coastal Strategy Discussion Paper in December 2022, which attracted about 770 responses.
The draft Coastal Strategy came out in July 2023 and generated almost 40 comments.
A report in the September 20 meeting agenda and minutes states that the 800 or so submissions have “helped identify the issues and opportunities facing these coastal areas and how we can respond to them.
“The council acknowledges that this document could not have been developed without community feedback and are thankful for the opportunity produce this plan for our region.”
Topics covered by the Coastal Strategy include population pressure and development; environment and landscape; development and infrastructure; land management, and community and economy.
The report goes on to state that “the document is vital for our coastal communities as it helps us to understand, and plan for future challenges such as, increasing demand for residential and commercial development in coastal areas, climate change risks, and ageing infrastructure.
“The Strategy was prepared based on the growing realisation that increasing development pressures in South Gippsland’s coastal settlements, combined with increasing environmental risk factors, notably fire and coastal inundation, had the potential to significantly expose more people and property to risks associated with climate change,” the report read.
“It was recognised that it must be effectively and pro-actively managed.”
At last Wednesday’s council meeting, Coastal/Promontory Ward’s Cr Sarah Gilligan moved to adopt the Coastal Strategy and to commend the community for its active participation in the consultation process.
She was seconded by her fellow Coastal/Promontory Ward representative Cr Mohya Davies.
“It has been a long journey getting the Coastal Strategy to this point,” Cr Gilligan said.
“I have been feeling quite impatient about it since joining council and talking about all of the challenges ahead for our coastal regions over the past 18 months,” she said.
“On state and federal government levels [as well as coastal local governments] everybody is grappling with this at the same time.
“With 85 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast it’s no wonder that so many of our coastal communities are dealing with planning that is no longer appropriate with failing infrastructure.
“There have been dramatic changes in the national and state focus around how we deal with potential flooding, and ecosystem-based management is coming to the fore now,” Cr Gilligan said.
“Our Coastal Strategy looks at a lot of things around growth in our coastal areas but also around protection of the magnificent environment that is the South Gippsland coastline.
“So while a lot of the information in our Coastal Strategy sounds dire and the inundation mapping is quite dire, the Coastal Strategy is actually a leadership piece for South Gippsland,” she said.
“We’re the first in Victoria to have a huge part of our coastline mapped as part of the Victorian Marine and Coastal Policy and as part of the Cape to Cape Resilience Plan that we had done.
“So we now, as a council, are walking in step with the state government and also with the federal government.
“The Insurance Council of Australia and the National Emergency Management Association are all releasing documents and plans at the moment that very much support where we’re heading,” Cr Gilligan said.
“The important thing about our Strategy is that where we are heading has been driven by the community, and to have feedback from 800 responses I think is quite extraordinary and shows us just how important this future is.
“So while we are currently constrained in our planning scheme and with the state government overlays, this Strategy is a really solid start for the direction we’re heading in,” she said.
“We are placed to be leaders to design and mitigate adaption strategies that keep our coastal communities resilient but also innovative.”
Cr Davies said “South Gippsland Shire has 300 kilometres of coast, which goes around from Venus Bay to Port Welshpool, and we have a responsibility to manage our coastal townships, villages and hamlets.
“In our planning it’s often difficult when there are so many conflicting issues, but I can honestly say that this document has been prepared with genuine consultation with our community,” she said.
“Congratulations to the council officers because [developing the Coastal Strategy] has involved a great deal of work and they have really gone the extra mile to ensure that our community has had the opportunity to contribute to this.
“It certainly provides us with some challenges for the future and there is a lot of work to be done ongoing, but this gives us a great basis,” Cr Davies said.
“It’s our best chance to work collaboratively with other councils, state government and federal government as well as our communities so this document is very clear, easy to read, great photographs and I commend it to the council.”
Strzelecki Ward Cr Jenni Keerie said that “for this council, for any council, to make steps forward we need to have a solid strategy or a solid plan to be able to take other stakeholders along with us so that were not just doing it on our own.
“This particular piece of work is so much bigger than local government, our South Gippsland Shire Council, can simply afford, but the responsibility just isn’t with South Gippsland.
“This Strategy and the Cape to Cape Resilience Project and the link into that gives us a really solid platform for future advocacy,” she said.
“It’s a great achievement for South Gippsland.”
South Gippsland Shire Mayor and Strzelecki Ward Cr Nathan Hersey said “we note the submissions [from the community] and we acknowledge our community for their contributions.
“I want to pass on my sincere thanks to the 800 people who showed up on this occasion and who decided that it was worthwhile putting their thoughts into this extensive engagement process,” he said.
“There’s a lot that had come out of this that actually strengthens what we would have already understood for our coastline.”
Cr Hersey listed a number of points considered important by the community, including “the removal of greenfield growth areas from our coastal towns of Venus Bay, Sandy Point and Waratah Bay”, “the retention of exiting town boundaries”, and “restrictions on one dwelling per lot”.
He noted that the impetus from the community for controls such as these is the wish to “protect the natural environment and the wildlife and to preserve the coastal and rural character” and that the community would “support nature-based solutions”.
Read the South Gippsland Coastal Strategy online through the South Gippsland Shire Council website at www.southgippsland.vic.gov.au via the Your Council, Council Meetings, and Meetings and Agendas buttons to the September 20, 2023 meeting, and look for the Coastal Strategy attachment.