FURIOUS Rotarians opposing the planned closure of Wonthaggi’s Visitor Information Centre have called a public meeting next Wednesday, March 9.
Around 40 Rotary Club of Wonthaggi members and Wonthaggi Business Association representatives gathered at the Centennial Centre last Thursday to formulate a plan of action after Bass Coast Shire Council announced the information service will be shuttered this June.
Rotary Club of Wonthaggi spokesperson, Brian Davidson, said all members are “appalled” by the council’s sudden decision.
“The Centennial Centre and Visitor Information Centre project was completed by council in partnership with Rotary, yet we had no idea this was coming,” Mr Davidson said.
“It was originally Rotary’s suggestion for the information centre and wayside stop for caravans.
“This was the celebrate Wonthaggi’s centenary and we spent years on the project.
“We consider it arrogant and inconsiderate not to consult with Rotary.
“The centre and wayside stop remains an important community service to visitors to our area.”
Mr Davidson said Rotary representatives had organised to meet with the council’s CEO, Paul Buckley, on February 18, but it appears the matter had already been decided the night before at a council meeting, where councillors discussed the closure in camera.
“It was fate accompli and we’re not happy,” Mr Davison added.
A 40-year project
Mr Davidson was Wonthaggi Rotary president in 1976 when talk of a visitor information centre was first floated.
Rotary played a role in managing Fincher Street reserve, where the Centennial Centre now stands.
“The reserve was in terrible condition, and Rotary had a verbal agreement with the old Borough of Wonthaggi council to manage it,” he said.
“Way back then, we were thinking about an information centre and wayside stop.
“I’ve towed caravans for 60 years, so I know how vital stops like these are.”
Rotary members cleaned up the reserve, planted new trees and built the impressive gumleaf structure which still stands.
Touch screens with visitor information were added to the gumleaf shelter in the late 1990s, but vandals damaged them in quick fashion.
“Leading up to Wonthaggi’s centenary in 2010, council asked us what we wanted to do with the site,” Mr Davidson continued.
“We gave them plans for an information centre, enquired about grants and the council ran with it, covering themselves in glory.”
Mr Davidson said Rotary’s building design was “much better” than the finished product.
“What they’ve got there now looks like a bloody factory in Footscray!” he said.
Rotary contributed over $35,000 to the $1.5m project, with the majority of funding ($1.07m) coming from the Federal Government.
Any doubts regarding Rotary’s involvement in the project, Mr Davidson said, can be quelled when visitors enter the Centennial Centre’s front door.
There, in plain sight, is a large Rotary logo.
“We’re supposed to be in full partnership,” Mr Davidson said, shaking his head.
“It can’t close, and we won’t let it.”
The public meeting has been scheduled to take place at Wonthaggi Workmen’s Club on Wednesday, March 9 from 6.30pm.
Report ‘not available’
A CRUCIAL council service review report regarding Wonthaggi’s Visitor Information Centre is “not available to the public”, according to the council’s CEO, Paul Buckley.
Last week, Cr Neil Rankine told the Sentinel-Times the report existed and would likely be made available to anyone who wished to peruse it.
However, Mr Buckley says this isn’t the case.
“The service was reviewed by Metamorph Consulting Group and included a review of all visitor centres in our network including Wonthaggi,” he explained.
“The key deliverable for this project was an options paper that makes recommendations for the council to consider how visitor services might be delivered and resourced in the future.
“It included financial modelling for each option with performance indicators.
“The report is not available to the public in line with the Local Government Act.”
Mr Buckley said the key objectives of the service review included:
• Review the current operations of the visitor service.
• Determine if council should be in the business of delivery. If council is best positioned to deliver these services, what is the minimum level of service the council could provide to receive maximum benefit for investment.
• Determine the extent to which the delivery of visitor service outcomes and outputs align with critical organisation strategies, plans and policies.
• Consider options for shared services.
• Consider the extent to which the visitor services can add greater value to the community.
• Develop a model of service delivery that allows for future demand with recommended resource level.
• Identify any areas of risk that might need to be considered.
• Assess the current visitor services delivery model against other options in the industry.
Wonthaggi VIC busier than South Gippsland
IF THE South Gippsland Shire Council followed the lead of its neighbour, Bass Coast, it would close both its visitor information centres at Korumburra and Foster immediately.
But there’s no indication South Gippsland is considering such a drastic course of action despite trailing behind the doomed Wonthaggi Visitor Information Centre (VIC) on visitor numbers.
According to a statement by Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Jordan Crugnale last week, the Wonthaggi visitor information centre “receives only 20,098” annually “making it difficult to justify continuing the service”.
Bass Coast plans to close Wonthaggi’s four-year old ‘Centennial Centre’ as a VIC in June this year.
However, while Wonthaggi’s 20,098 appears to be a low number when compared with the total number of 233,948 visitors who attend all of the VICs in the Bass Coast network; including centres at Newhaven, Cowes, Wonthaggi and Inverloch; it stacks up well against South Gippsland’s two centres.
According to figures released by the South Gippsland Shire, 13,107 visitors attended the Foster VIC and 6110 attended the Korumburra VIC in 2014/15, a total of 19,217 visitors across the whole of South Gippsland Shire.
But that’s 781 fewer visitors than attend the Wonthaggi visitors’ centre.
As well as bemoaning the number of people accessing the Wonthaggi centre, the Bass Coast Shire claims it costs $9.22 per visitor to keep Wonthaggi open, as compared to a cost of $4.84 per visitor attending the four centres across the whole network.
Two of those centres, at Newhaven and Cowes, provide services to people attending the number two most popular tourist attraction in Australia, the Phillip Island Penguin Parade.
In 2014/15 a total of 1,261,882 people attended the four Phillip Island Nature Parks attractions.
Since announcing the closure of the Wonthaggi visitors’ centre, without prior community consultation or the tabling of a formal assessment of the operation of the centre; there has been an understandable outcry about the decision and the way it was taken; notably by the Wonthaggi Business Association.