By Michael Giles

THERE have been many good ideas put forward at community consultation sessions around the latest draft of Wonthaggi Activity Centre Structure Plan.
It’s a plan that’s designed to secure and enhance Wonthaggi’s place as the region’s main service centre for the next 20 years, and well into the future.
It’s supposed to look at what activities go on in the centre at the moment; how cars, bikes and pedestrians get access and move through the centre, being mindful of the range of abilities and what should happen with the key spaces around the centre including Apex Park and the old secondary college site.
But the plan, and many of the ideas coming forward so far, have been heavy on aesthetics and light on commercial realities.
For goodness sake, it’s principally a retail and business centre and, while some people don’t like talking about income and profitability, how the proposed changes and improvements impact on the businesses in the centre must be front of mind.
So far that’s not been the case.
Of course, it would be nice to have more trees, designated bike paths which connect to existing access points, safer crossings for pedestrians, methods of reducing vehicle speed, suitable themes, seats etc.
But planners should think long and hard about how these changes impact on the number of parking spaces and access to businesses and services.
Make no mistake, every single car space in the CBD, especially those closest to shops and offices, have a direct dollar value to those businesses, impacting viability and jobs.
The plan does offer a recommendation to “undertake a car parking study of the Activity Centre and investigate the feasibility of upgrading car parking facilities on Council-owned car parks and/or other potential private or public car parking opportunities” but the plan does not give the commercial and employment imperatives of the centre enough focus.
Certainly, if the centre isn’t easy to access, attractive and diverse it won’t attract the all-important customers, so it’s a compromise but the balance isn’t right at the moment.
So far, the Wonthaggi Business and Tourism Association has been well represented at these meetings and other business operators could be forgiven for not becoming engaged in case this is just another shire plan destined to gather dust.
But it’s too important to take a chance on an airy-fairy structure plan getting through.
On a separate note, as important as coal mining is to the history of Wonthaggi, we’re looking at the future now and it’s high time we embraced our proximity to the coast as a major theme and selling point for Wonthaggi.