The holiday is over for annual permit holders at the Long Jetty Caravan Park at Port Welshpool, many of them facing significant financial stress and the prospect of departure from the park that has been a second home for years. Among them are Steve Savage, Graeme Stoll, Latna McLaine (unaffected permanent), Leonie Savage, Paula, Luka and Stan Crossley and Keith Murphy.
“IT’S more than just a caravan park site. We love living here. We’ve got an emotional attachment to this place and to the people here.”
That’s how Long Jetty Caravan Park annual permit holder, Lauren Cresswell summed up her feelings about the ultimatum issued to her, to her husband Brett and their neighbours at the Port Welshpool caravan park by the shire in recent weeks.
“Everyone’s terribly upset,” she said, tearing-up despite an assurance from the shire that “council will not be evicting site users”.
It’s an interesting guarantee given that the shire is also required by law to advise permit holders that a permit renewal, after 12 months, is not guaranteed.
Few are reassured anyway, asking what will happen to those who fail to comply with the new regulations or are unable to comply with the shire’s directives by the deadline of June 30, 2015.
And they’re none too happy with the way the message was delivered at a public meeting in the town last Tuesday night, especially with the “threatening tone” allegedly taken by the South Gippsland Shire Council’s CEO, Tim Tamlin.
“I just asked him a simple question about the vans being ‘able to be registered’, as opposed to actually being registered, and he got pretty aggressive,” said another of the annuals, Stan Crossley.
“He said ‘if you keep that up, Stan, I will make you register them’. He just lost it. It wasn’t a good look.”
Mr Crossley was querying one of the key ‘non negotiables’ laid down by the shire, including that all vans must be able to be moved, they must be able to be registered i.e. be capable of being towed down the highway to VicRoads at Leongatha for registration and that cabins cannot be privately owned.
Many of the caravans, built-in with the approval of the park’s former management, are incapable of being moved or made ready to be towed. But that’s just one of many imponderables.
A member of the ‘Friends of the Long Jetty Caravan Park’ group, Mr Crossley said he was only putting forward a question that other leaseholders had asked him to mention.
But it’s not easy for the shire either.
They’ve effectively been handed a poison challis by the State Government via its policy statement, publish in January 2012 – ‘Improving equity of access to Crown land caravan and camping parks 2011’.
The shire is in the process of bringing its two parks, at Yanakie and Port Welshpool, into line with this policy but not without upsetting most of the 77 permit holders at Port Welshpool and a similar number at Yanakie.
Before departing on a seven-week holiday last Friday, Mr Tamlin agreed there was a deal of angst and even anger expressed at the 100-strong community meeting last Tuesday which also addressed several other pressing issues for Port Welshpool including the state of the Long Jetty and the feasibility of developing a multi-million dollar marina near the wharf.
“They were worried, definitely, concerned and angry at times, and with good reason,” Mr Tamlin admitted.
“But I would say they are still engaged, yes, very engaged about what has to be done. We’re committed to getting a good outcome for each of the site holders,” he said.
“The council is required to operate and manage its caravan parks (at Port Welshpool and Yanakie) in accordance with a range of government legislation and policies. That’s the motivation.”
Changes must be made
According to information issued to site holders, the council must observe the requirements of the State Government’s ‘Improving access’ policy which aims to ensure that a range of accommodation options are accessible to all prospective users and to discourage long-term exclusive occupancy (longer than 12 months) of caravan and camping sites.
Long Jetty Caravan Park permit holders say the policy isn’t relevant to their park which has no waiting list and few people expressing an interest in coming.
The policy says Crown land caravan parks must not be managed for:
• Exclusive long term occupancy
• Permanent residency
• Individual profiteering
• Poor environmental outcomes
Among other things, the policy says:
• The council has to provide a minimum number of sites for traditional transit and short-term camping visitors.
• Permit holders cannot occupy their sites for more than 59 consecutive days and no more than a total of 180 days a year.
• Unregistrable mobile dwellings are not permitted in Crown land caravan and camping parks unless owned by the management body or the lessee with the consent of the management body.
• Councils are told not to use the term “Annual Permit” as it may imply an ongoing arrangement. Preferable terms are “Weekender” or “12-month permit”.
• There is to be no sub-letting of long-term permit sites and permit holders are to be discouraged from using the site as a permanent place of residence.
The shire is also to develop strategies for attracting more people to their parks including school groups and tertiary students.
The ‘Improving Equity of Access in Crown Land Caravan Parks’ document also notes that the shire should “employ strategies to limit the sense of ownership” by not allowing gardens to be planted on sites, by reconfiguring the park so that 12-month permit holders are located in the one place and by insisting that all possessions be packed inside when permit holders are away. It should also be made clear that renewal is not guaranteed.
Not buying the site
The council managers are also warned that the practice of selling caravans on site may give buyers a false sense of value and ownership of the caravan site which remains public land.
“The purchase price of a caravan on-site may not reflect the true market value of the item being sold.”
It is further noted that “there is potential for profiteering from public land”.
Sales of vans are allowed to continue on site but it must involve an independent valuation and transparent process and if a van is advertised for sale but not sold within the 12-month permit period it must be removed from the site.
Prospective buyers will be advised that the sites “cannot be owned by the buyer” and that the purchase price should be based on the value of the caravan with “no expectation” that the term of the lease will be extended beyond the term of the yearly agreement.
Just coming to terms with the requirements and the implications has been huge exercise, according to one of Port Welshpool park’s spokesmen, Graeme Stoll.
He has looked back as far as 1948 to discover the origins of the shire’s management of the park.
He said one of the main concerns, aside from people being worried about ultimately being evicted, is the threat to people’s “assets”.
The owner of one of the privately owned cabins spent $30,000 last year in renovations and improvements, with the approval of management, only to find that they may be “kicked out of the park”.
Others have spent between $12,000 and $40,000 to buy caravans, annexes and ‘improvements’ only to be told that they may have to remove them or go to great expense to make them compliant.
D-day is the weekend of October 14-15 this year when Caravan Parks Coordinator Jock Wilson will carry out compliance inspections prior to providing permit holders with an assessment of what needs to be done.
In anticipation of this, some permit holders have already pulled up stumps and left.
For others, with elaborately built-in caravans and annexes, it’s not going to be nearly quite so easy.
Mr Stoll also notes that annual fees have gone up from $2100 to $3000.