Open letter to the Bass Coast Shire Council CEO, Paul Buckley.
As a long-time resident and business owner located in Wonthaggi, I was absolutely dismayed to find out that the Bass Coast Shire Council wants to close the Wonthaggi Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in June this year.
I find this decision to be an incredible backward step for Wonthaggi and the surrounding parts of Bass Coast, and I cannot understand why the council would make such a proposal.
To make this decision without any community consultation (and behind closed doors) is absolutely disgraceful.
I cannot believe that the community of Wonthaggi was unaware of this process and the fact that you thought not to include the community is totally arrogant and disrespectful.
Instead, an ‘independent review’ is the basis of your concealed decision.
Aren’t you people meant to be working for the community? Aren’t you meant to be transparent about your processes and decisions?
The fact that councillors seem to be OK with this concealed process is also puzzling to me. I thought they were elected to represent the people and the community; not allow council to make decisions without community consultation and behind closed doors?
I am just in total disbelief that this has occurred as well as how it has occurred. Where has the democratic process gone here?
You suggest that the reason for the closure of the Wonthaggi VIC is because it only attracts about 10 per cent of the 233,948 visitors to the Bass Coast Shire.
I would imagine that a very large percentage of this total are visitors to the Newhaven VIC, which is totally understandable when you consider that Phillip Island is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Australia.
Your figures state that the Wonthaggi VIC received 20,098 visitors per year.
This equates to an average of 55 people per day, which is six people per hour.
I would suggest that this is in fact a rather substantial amount of people visiting the Wonthaggi VIC.
As a business person, if I had six customers per hour I would be ecstatic!
It seems to me that the problem is not that ‘only’ 10 per cent of Bass Coast visitors drop in to the Wonthaggi VIC.
The problem is that we are not providing enough of a beneficial service to these 10 per cent.
Instead of making a relatively simple decision to close the service, the council should be doing what they tell all the voluntary organisations to do: Get creative!
Figure out ways to make more people visit the centre:
• How about some visible and informative signs for the tourists who are driving into and through Wonthaggi? Signs that clearly inform them that an excellent VIC facility is available to them, where they can park their caravans and gather information about the area from fantastic staff members.
• How about a public toilet and barbecue facility for tourists to utilise? Even locals could utilise this type of facility.
• Why isn’t there a bus stop at the VIC? Seriously, why isn’t a bus stop at the VIC!
• How about a children’s park, where tourists (and locals) could entertain their children for a while? Maybe the Mayor’s proposed Turbine Blade Park could be placed here? I’m serious!
• How about increasing the amount of parking that’s available at the VIC? Contrary to what our local councillor tells the papers, the current spaces are totally insufficient for the VIC. Totally insufficient.
• How about advertising to the community that this absolutely wonderful facility is available for hire to anyone?
• There are plenty of business people (local and those passing through) who could utilise such a facility if Wi-Fi and a work station was available to them.
• How about an internet café?
• For more than 10 years, the council has been aware of a local man and his ideas for historical sculptures in the Fincher Reserve (The old Coal Mine ‘Shunt area’), as well as Indigenous historical attractions for this reserve, but have chosen not to facilitate his ideas.
It has taken me 15 minutes to come up with these thoughts.
So, rather than make a secretive decision to close this magnificent facility, why hasn’t council seriously considered how to improve the service at the Wonthaggi VIC so that more people would want to utilise the service?
The council’s own economic development strategy 2015–2020 states that the Municipal Strategic Statement (p10), ‘which is consistent with Plan Melbourne and The Regional Growth Plan, identifies Wonthaggi as the regional centre of Bass Coast Shire’.
Surely, if this is the case, then council should be increasing services such as the VIC, rather than closing it down!
Surely, the regional centre of Bass Coast Shire should have a VIC? In fact, I would suggest that a regional centre VIC should be much better resourced than the current one!
I would actually go further and suggest that council should be spending more time and energy in making Wonthaggi actually look and feel like a ‘regional centre’.
• What plans are there to improve the infrastructure of Wonthaggi? Especially traffic management – make major intersections much safer than they currently are.
• What plans are there to enhance/revitalise the central business area of Wonthaggi (Graham Street – McBride Avenue)?
• What plans are there to make this central business area more pedestrian friendly?
The people who have worked at this facility (the solitary paid member and the group of volunteers) have done a magnificent job in providing an extremely worthy service to our shire and this is how they are treated. What a kick in the guts for them! Not one of the volunteers was aware of their impending fate.
Even the Wonthaggi Rotary club (who instigated and part-funded this project) were unaware of the council’s secretive future plans for the Wonthaggi VIC.
Needless to say, they too are extremely disappointed with the lack of vision shown by council.
In conclusion Mr Buckley, rather than closing down essential services to the community, why don’t you facilitate a review into how much money is wasted on the inefficiencies of local government – and I imagine there are plenty of them.
You could start with finding out how much is spent on providing food and beverages to council staff at their many meetings and events.
Terry Earl, Wonthaggi.
More letters on this issue in this weeks edition of the Sentinel-Times.