By Danika Dent
WHEN Yanakie and Port Welshpool’s caravan parks were taken over by the South Gippsland Shire Council, councillors noted there would be a lot of public scrutiny and even welcomed the opportunity to show council’s business nous – that it could operate a revenue raiser.
With the public sceptical, it was no surprise the two caravan parks would come under particular attack at council budget submissions.
When the idea was first floated – to bring the council-owned caravan parks back under council management, council was warned its business case wasn’t up to scratch.
Now with the budget process underway, and due to be debated on June 24, submitters noted significant losses built into the budget, instead of the promised profits.
Council said at the time the push to bring the caravan parks under council management was part of a compliance issue – that permanent caravans at the site would not pass a State Government mandated muster.
The process, seen by the annual site holders as a hostile takeover and push to release sites to be re-tendered at higher fees, was controversial and annuals warned of a ‘mass exodus’.
There are now 28 sites vacant at Yanakie Caravan Park, and 30 at Long Jetty (Port Welshpool).
Of those, only one new annual is on board at Yanakie, with “over 10 on an interested list”, and two new annuals at Long Jetty (five on “an interest list”).
Former annual at Yanakie, Paul Leggerini said the exodus of annuals would have a significant impact on the shire’s budget.
“The ‘mass exodus’ certainly has begun at Yanakie Caravan park!” he said.
“The report from the park over the Queen’s Birthday was at least 25 sites vacated plus many other long term annuals clearing out their vans ready for removal.
“My van will be gone tomorrow [Wednesday, June 10], so add another vacant site the list!
“My calculations are in excess of 35 annuals, representing $136,500 (35 x $3900 annual fees) lost revenue to council.
“That’s not counting any lost revenue to local businesses!
“So far, I don’t believe any ‘new’ annuals have been attracted to these vacated sites.”
Mr Leggerini said the funds lost to council will be spent elsewhere as former annual site-holders, disgusted with council’s process, leave.
Council confirmed even it is unsure when income lost in annual fees will be recouped but noted the budget reflected 30 per cent losses at both parks from annual site holders.
That is, with 55 per annual sites available at $3880.80 per annum for Yanakie and $3217.50 per annum for Long Jetty, losses of over $104,781.60 at Yanakie and $90,090 at Long Jetty.
This does not include further investments in infrastructure at the sites, or $318,000 to compensate the former lessee at Yanakie for their own infrastructure improvements.
Despite business plans which indicated the caravan parks could be self-sustainable, critics say the model is flawed; that it was incomplete, naïve and overly optimistic.
Planning at the parks is ongoing, while compliance issues are addressed.
Council officers confirmed the shire “will shortly commence site layout plans for the parks, which also includes understanding the ratio of sites (annual/tourist/camping), number of sites required and the appropriate sizes of sites.
“This would also influence number of site holders in the future.
“Once this has been finalised, we will be in a better positioned to comment [on how much is to be recouped in new annual site holders].”
Figures from the recent Queen’s Birthday long weekend reflected occupancy was low.
The occupancy at Yanakie was 70 per cent cabins (Saturday) and 50 per cent on powered and unpowered sites over the weekend.
Long Jetty recorded 100 per cent occupancy and 10 to 15 per cent in powered sites.
Council’s compliance work, on bringing permanent vans in line with the State Government rules is on track.
In June, hard landscaping, like fences, pathways and sheds, are to be removed.
“We are also currently managing the electrical compliance, plumbing compliance and annex compliance with site holders, which is underway with regular on-site meetings taking place at both parks,” a council spokesperson said.
“The next stage of compliance is for site holders to achieve a ‘registrable’ condition for their vans by the end of this calendar year.
“Registrable means that the vans would be able to be registered by VicRoads.
“It does not mean that they physically have to take their vans to VicRoads to be registered.
“However, for any new site holders coming into the park, they will have to bring with them a VicRoads registered caravan.”
Waratah next to be taken over?
WARATAH Bay’s lease expires in 2017 and council appears set to take over the caravan park at that stage.
Council budget papers indicate $20,000 has been allocated for an “independent review of the business operation and opportunities for the park”.
Meanwhile the proprietors have been told the lease will not be renewed.
Council has been warned at budget submissions to ‘keep their hands off Waratah Bay’.
“The council made a mistake that will be compounded should they go ahead with the takeover of Waratah Bay when the lease expires in 2017,” Adrian Fyfe told council.
Mr Fyfe questioned council’s role in not supporting Waratah Bay’s $50,000 State Government grant application to upgrade its amenities block, and the shire applying for the same grant – worth $120,000, which was successful to prepare a master plan to evaluate caravan parks on crown land in the shire.
He said an amount of $397,477 was further diverted from Waratah Bay to bring Yanakie and Port Welshpool up to standard, depriving Waratah Bay of funding.
He said despite council setting up Waratah Bay to fail, Waratah Bay did not have any compliance issues – which was the primary reason given for taking over Yanakie and Port Welshpool.
Mr Fyfe said that if the leases were sufficiently tidied up, there would be stronger powers for the shire to act on breaches – as was the case with the Korumburra Caravan Park, therefore not requiring an expensive and another antagonistic takeover.