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Report on Apollo Bay Harbour Development – A Proposal Revisited   

 With much fanfare in 2008, the Colac Otway Shire announced that they would conduct a five day workshop to resolve issues over the proposed re-development of the Apollo Bay Harbour and its precinct.  There have been numerous studies and plans dating back eighteen years, and while there have been a number of improvements to its functionality as a working harbour, the plans have not materialised to their full extent.   An illustration of this is that the Apollo Bay Sailing Club, a popular and successful club, has been striving to obtain a permanent club house in the harbour precinct for twenty years.   The most recent plan for harbour development featured in the Apollo Bay Structure Plan, one of the aspects of Planning Amendment C55 as part of the Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS).  This plan was released in early 2007 and caused considerable consternation in the community, largely because of a new access road cutting a swathe through what could be potential public open space; community and commercial facilities not foreshore or harbour dependent being in the precinct, and a five star hotel being sited on public lands.  The proposal was costed at $60m including $19m for the hotel.

The workshop over the period September 18 – 22 featured ‘Enquiry by Design’ and was organised by consultants, Ecologically Sustainable Design Pty Ltd.

The opening event was a public meeting on the evening of September 18 at the Youth Club Hall in Apollo Bay.  The Mayor, Cr Chris Smith opened proceedings and was followed by the CEO of Colac Otway Shire, Tracey Slatter.  Both speakers emphasised the point that it was up to the community to decide what was wanted and the intent was to establish just what that was through this ‘different’ approach of enquiry by design. World’s best practice, sustainable and environmentally sensitive development and ‘must see’ attraction were all mentioned.  The meeting then heard from Greg Hyland, CEO of Tourism Victoria, who again stated it was up to the community to decide, but then he proceeded to effectively tell the audience, ‘no hotel, no development’.  This refers to a proposal for a five star hotel of 80 – 100 rooms, to cater for the International Tourists, in the Harbour Precinct.  This aspect of the proposed development was soundly rejected by the community in previous meetings and surveys.

Carolyn Douglas, Director of Public Lands DSE then spoke on the use of Public land and made brief reference to the hierarchy of use of public lands as presented in the Victorian Coastal Strategy. The final speaker was Chip Kaufman of Ecologically Sustainable Design Pty Ltd, who spoke for nearly an hour explaining what EBD was and going over the Harbour Development Plan and its 17 points that everyone in the audience was very familiar with since it was the plan as presented in 2007 and in the Apollo Bay Structure Plan.  After patiently sitting through nearly two hours of being told, the audience got a chance to ask questions.  It was immediately obvious that the meeting was somewhat hostile to the process thus far and that the community, as represented at the meeting, was opposed to the hotel.  Focus was also directed at the long term viability of the harbour in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.  (The Harbour has a long history of sand build up and requires constant dredging to keep the entrance open.)   An answer was that every decade or so the sand would have to be taken out!  Is this sustainability and world’s best practice?   Mr Kaufman expressed a view of allowing 800mm for sea level rise.  The newspapers on Saturday September 20 were mentioning 2 metres as a rational figure to use for planning purposes in coastal areas and storm surge has to be added on to that.  What is the cost of raising the height of the breakwater and all the current infrastructure of the now working Harbour?

The Apollo Bay Sand Study (2005) identifies strategies for keeping the entrance to the harbour open.  One option is to maintain the current practice of using the dredge on an ‘as needed’ basis.  This is estimated to cost $318,000 per annum or $3.18m over a ten year period.

The meeting concluded with the participants broken up into focus groups to consider three questions and report back.  The questions were:

 1.      What do you especially value about Apollo Bay , particularly the Harbour Precinct?

2.      What are the specific problems or dislikes you have about Apollo Bay , particularly the Harbour Precinct?

3.      What is your future vision (short or long term) for the Apollo Bay Harbour Precinct?

 With the assistance of facilitators the results were condensed in a series of one line statements grouped under descriptive headings and made available to the public over the weekend.  Subsequent sessions over the weekend gave special interest groups, (for example, the Apollo Bay Sailing Club), an opportunity to present their views and government agencies were also scheduled to hold discussions with Council staff and the design team.

A particular feature of the weekend was the presentation of an ‘Open Design Studio’ where the public were invited to discuss aspects of the Harbour Design with the design team at work, interpreting the comments from all the sources and reacting to them in sketches of proposed designs. 

By Sunday afternoon, significant changes had emerged with the sketches that seemed to reflect the community input and there was a heightened anticipation of the final session, a closing public meeting where a new Harbour design was expected to be presented.  Would it live up to the promise shown so far?  

Some highlights of the options on the table were:

 Monday evening closing

 A good crowd presented (approx 70-90) and there was generally a positive response to the potential that the plans as presented offered.  The hotel proposal had probably been the most contentious issue of all; now it was retained but reduced from 80 to a 40 B/R facility and incorporated a health and wellness centre (spas, sauna massage, and heated pool) available to the public.  It was acknowledged that the ‘Enquiry by Design’ Team ran a great 5 day workshop and there were plenty of ideas coming from all participants.  There was some retention of a healthy skepticism, since leverage could be applied for expansion of the hotel in the future.

John Spencer  September 23, 2008