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Report on Public Meeting to Discuss Apollo Bay Harbour Precinct Master Plan

On Sunday April 8th, 2007 at 4.30pm in the Youth Club Hall in Apollo Bay, 167 people attended a public meeting called to discuss the Harbour Precinct Master Plan as released by the Colac Otway Shire.  Previous indications from the community at large were that many ratepayers were unhappy with many of the proposals advanced in the Master Plan.  There was also a general sense of dissatisfaction with the way in which it had been presented to the community.

Again this background, the Otway Forum called the public meeting.  The general mood of the meeting was one of disquiet and distrust of the Council’s agenda in pushing the plan.  Indeed, anger was expressed over the handling of the Melbourne meeting called for non-resident ratepayers.  Participants at that meeting reported that they felt they were being bullied into making decisions supporting the plan and that any unfavourable comments were talked down by the Council Officer present.

This report is an attempt to express the views of the meeting and to present, as far as is practicable, a community view on the Harbour Precinct Master Plan.

It is important at the outset, to state that the Apollo Bay Harbour is recognized as a valuable asset to the town.  It is appreciated by both visitors and residents alike and activities such as sailing, fishing, walking and surfing on the adjacent beaches are enjoyed.  The cultural significance of the area and its history are also important and it is noted that it is a Gazetted Port and has attendant responsibilities as a result of that.

The community vision would be to retain the relaxed, unstructured features of the existing harbour, with no commercial development apart from that associated with the fishing industry.  The harbour is characterized by the peaceful charm it offers as is evidenced by the numerous photographs that are available. Similar East Coast harbour developments are not suited to Apollo Bay and are unnecessary on this stretch of coastline.  There is no significant expanse of safe waters off the harbour, such as Port Stephens, north of Newcastle for example.  Indeed the waters are those of some of the most dangerous waters in Australia, that is, Bass Strait.  There is a minimum of 10 hours sailing between Queenscliff and Apollo Bay, with a similar time to Port Fairy, with no safe harbours in between.  Therefore very few yachts visit Apollo Bay.  In fact, in Victoria, very few travel far from their home port.

Clearly, in the event that the golf course is relocated there is scope for some development in the precinct.  The view was expressed that the released lands remain in public hands as a whole and there was a concern that if private development occurred then, over time, more and more land would fall to private interests.  The State Government has found, for example, that the sale of railway station land for development (e.g. Broadmeadows Station Centre) has proved a handicap to subsequent development outcomes in the public interest.

Strongly expressed views came from both the Sailing Club and users of the boat ramp with trailer boats.  It was noted that simple improvements to control traffic and parking movements at the boat ramp were necessary and it was noted that up to 80 boats trailers were parked near the boat ramp on Easter Sunday (probably the busiest time of the year).  There was considerable discussion about the location of the boat ramp with a view expressed that relocating it to the east end and immediately adjacent to the breakwater would lead to problems.  For instance there is the increased possibility of water being driven onto the breakwater.  Ultimately the meeting expressed the view that the users should be consulted. (Anecdotal evidence suggests that while Council consulted user groups, their advice has been ignored). A representative of the Apollo Bay Sailing Club stated that the Club had been seeking security of tenancy for over 20 years and that the current facilities (a portable building and portable toilet) are quite inadequate. While the idea of a lap pool was rejected, many speakers recognized the need for Apollo Bay to have an indoor heated pool.

A particularly strong address to the meeting was made by Harry Ferrier, a local fisherman.  He explained that sand movement blocking the harbour entrance had been a continuing problem since the harbour was first constructed.  Following its construction, the dune build up along the foreshore adjacent to Collingwood Street started.  Dredging at the harbour entrance is an ongoing process and at times the entrance is not navigatible.  He noted that under certain conditions entry to the harbour is difficult and can be dangerous, and that the recent minor extension and smoothing of the wall had increased the danger.  The nature of the harbour as a gazetted port was also discussed and the ensuing responsibilities this carries.  He explained that there has been a gradual decline in range and scope of facilities for the fishing industry.  For example, the slipway initially had a 100 tonne capacity but this is now reduced to 50 tonne.  The extension of the breakwater was dismissed as being counter productive in that it would add to the sand built up at the entrance.  Indeed, it could very well cause further silting beyond the capacity of the dredge, resulting in permanent closure of the harbour and the total loss of the fishing industry.

Other speakers expressed concern over confused lines of responsibility noting that responsibilities can lie with the Foreshore Committee, the Shire Council, DSE and Ports Authorities.  This would be further exasperated if commercial development occurred.

It has been suggested that the proposed development could cost up to $36million and questions were asked about what impact this might have on rates, should problems arise due to silting up of the harbour.

The concept of a five star hotel was rejected outright as not of being a benefit to the community but rather an enticement to a developer, to meet the costs of the Marina development.

Following the expression of views from a number of speakers the meeting requested that each numbered point in the proposal be put to gauge public reaction.  It was agreed to limit the options to effectively a Yes/No vote as in Support/Oppose as a matter of expediency.  (It is important to note that the Chair of the meeting stressed several times the importance of each person expressing their own views through the Council’s feedback form.)

The results with a few comments were as follows:

1.           New Access Road – No, unnecessary
3.           Fisherman’s Cooperative – Yes, but upgrade/expand on current site
4.           Community and Commercial buildings – No, community activities including the market should stay where they are.
6.           Lap Pool – No, but the community needs a 50 metre heated pool.
8.           Boat Ramp – Yes, but location to be as user groups require it.
10.         New Sailing Club Facilities – Yes, location by consultation
11.         Seasonal Camping – Yes, but not on Point Bunbury.
12.         Hotel/Visitor Accommodation. – No.
14.         New Community precinct – No.

Note that the numbers above correspond to the numbered points of the Harbour Proposal.

At the close of the meeting, a motion of censure against the Council staff who were responsible for this matter was put and carried.

John Spencer, Chair of Meeting
On behalf of the Otway Forum