In past weeks I was pleased to have had the opportunity to sing the praises of the Bass Coast Shire Council, through participation in a recent Community Satisfaction Survey.
Sadly, I should not have.
I attended the June council meeting, at which councillors considered a petition containing 1004 signatures against a proposed ban on horses on the Corinella foreshore.
I had previously spoken to councillors, at the Bass Coast Community Connections session, but despite undertakings given by them at this session, a majority of them have not been as good as their word on this issue.
The result of the June meeting is that a majority of councillors, who clearly had predetermined positions, have supported a report that failed to provide any evidence or a risk assessment, and was based purely on opinion and anecdotal information in relation to horses using the Corinella Foreshore.
Our petition opposed a ban or restrictions on horses using the Corinella Foreshore, and appealed for the beach to continue to be available for horse riding as it has been for the past 100 years.
The petition pointed out that the local equine industry employs in excess of 100 people in the Corinella area; that horse training is a major economic driver in this area; and there is a potential adverse economic impact if restrictions on this thriving industry are imposed.
The location of training stables in the area is directly related to the physical wellbeing of horses in training, of seawater.
Cr Clare Le Serve argued that the Corinella Foreshore committee has taken a lot of flak in regards to horses using the foreshore.
But this is not a sound reason for the imposition of restrictions, and a ban on 13 days of the year with restricted hours during the Victorian school holidays, without supporting evidence.
And how does that sit with the Council Plan just adopted which pledges “transparent evidence-based and inclusive decision making”.
The motion introducing restrictions and charges, moved by Cr Clare Le Serve, and the report presented, was not up for review or comment from the rest of us, that is, those affected, which is unfortunate because it was deficient.
It failed to provide any evidence to support the recommendations presented to councillors, be it numbers of complaints; the number of horses that use the beach, and when; whether there has been an increase of horses using the beach; or evidence of any incidents that have occurred.
It was impossible for council to come to an evidence based decision, from it.
Cr Le Serve argued that at the New Year’s Eve fireworks there are 5000 people on the foreshore for the fireworks display.
What has that got to do with the argument?
There are no horses on the foreshore at midnight on December 31.
Cr Le Serve raised community concerns about public liability.
Do dog walkers have this?
She said she had seen a horse off the lead and the rider chasing it down the other end of the beach.
This brought to my mind a recent incident when a pack of dogs ran at the horses, south of the O’Connor Road steps, nearly dislodged the rider.
Are dog owners required to have public liability too?
She compared the Corinella Foreshore with Frankston.
The population of Frankston is 130,000 residents, compared to Coronet Bay’s 700.
Cr Le Serve also said a permit system was required because over the years we have seen pony clubbers come to this beach. So?
Cr Geoff Ellis also said that the more we can keep it simple and the less restrictions we have, the better.
I whole heartedly agree, but why then did they turn around and shackle the kids.
Cr Fullarton said that he unashamedly stood up for the local people and their horses; that generations of this community have lived and worked their horses on the foreshore, and just because Coronet Bay has suddenly become an attractive area for new people to move into, they think they have a right to change the way people have always lived down here.
I totally agree.
To want to charge local pony clubs $350 for the kids to ride their horses there was wrong in his eyes.
As he said, trainers can offset the fees they will now be charged to owners, but pony clubs are made up of families who run sausage sizzles to raise funds.
Thanks to Cr Fullarton, at least pony club charges were removed from the motion in the end.
Ward councillors at the meeting stated that they have had consultation with all stakeholders in this issue.
However the local pony club and other organisations have no record of being contacted by any parties.
While residents may perceive a risk to exist, it should be clearly understood, without bias, what the potential risks are.
Problems I identify which were not raised in the discussion include:
1. Designated sections of the beach are not clearly marked, and use is therefore confusing.
2. Since the successful Sandy Paws movement in 2014 saw off leash dog area on the Coronet Bay section restored, beach goers have moved further along the beach towards the Norsemans Road horse area, because they don’t want to be run at by dogs off lead. It can be confronting to see horses on the beach with pedestrians.
3. People would once walk left to avoid the horses, but now they are faced with dogs off lead.
4. If there was clear signs at both ends of the beach, some of this confusion would be alleviated.
5. Dogs not restrained whilst in the ‘on lead’ section of the beach are making a nuisance of themselves and upsetting other beach users.
6. Horses can be frightened by unfamiliar, unrestrained dogs and this then places the rider at risk.
7. Horses are not a predatory animal, and are more likely to be the victim of a dog attack, than vice versa.
Following council’s decision to introduce permits and restrictions, I ask, what problem have they actually solved?
1. How do permits reduce the risk? Horses are still on the beach.
2. How do permits control excrement? There is already provision to collect after your animal, yet current enforcement seems ineffective.
3. Does council have a role in proactive education?
4. Why not a designated beach for horses, same as occurs for dogs. Residents have an alternative section of the beach to utilise in the event they don’t like horses, similarly with people who don’t like dogs.
5. In the interests of consistency and fairness, why have you not imposed a permit system on dogs? I am confident there are far more incidents involving dogs than horses.
Katie McDowall.