By Michael Giles
THE truth is that both the State and Federal government don’t know this part of Victoria even exists.
They know where the Great Ocean Road is on the Surf Coast because that’s where most of the Victorian MPs have their holiday houses.
And they seem to know about the Gippsland Lakes and the popular spots along the Murray.
But this part of the state, featuring the second most-popular tourist attraction in Australia, barely rates a mention in state planning documents and precious few of the crumbs that fall from Melbourne’s table ever find their way here for much needed infrastructure improvement.
And we saw what that will mean increasingly in the future as bumper crowds over the Christmas-New Year period flocked to the area, no doubt boosted by access problems along the Great Ocean Road.
Regularly over the past few days, traffic was at a standstill right back to the Bass overpass and beyond, and it was taking up to an hour to get from Cowes, across the island, to San Remo.
Certainly there’s the issue of the single lane bridge at San Remo and, sooner or later, the government is going to have to bite the bullet there, but the road network on the island generally isn’t handling the crowds either.
It’s an inconvenience, certainly, and thanks to the efforts of those operating the ‘Phillip Island Traffic Check’ Facebook page, commuters have been able to spread their arrival and departure times.
But, more importantly, it’s a community safety and health issue as well.
There seem to be two solutions; better infrastructure is needed for those wishing to access the island (and while they are there) but also we need a more wide-ranging strategy plan that looks at spreading the load around the Bass Coast so that other coastal areas like Inverloch, Cape Paterson, Kilcunda and the Waterline towns can handle more visitors.
This could extend further along the coast, in the area between Phillip Island and the Prom, although looming septic issues at places like Venus Bay, Sandy Point and Walkerville are major drawbacks.
This too will have to be tackled and people with existing homes in these areas can’t be expected to pay $50,000 to replace their leaky septics.
Any plan that looks at visitor impact, overall population growth and the role this area could play in the growth of the state must get serious about public transport and ultimately this has to include the return of rail services.
But local councils too need to get serious about infrastructure that caters to visitors and growth, and the argy-bargy over the pedestrian pathway along Surf Parade in Inverloch has now been fully exposed for the disgraceful episode it has been by the summer influx.
Councillors can’t keep playing their petty politics with these much needed improvements. They should either get on with them in a timely manner or get out of the way… but more of that later.
The challenge for our State and Federal MPs is to raise the profile of this area at the highest levels and if they had a sub-regional development plan to work with, they’d be much better equipped to do just that.
It’s time for everyone who cares about the coast to get their heads together and make it happen.