By Kirra Grimes
A PETITION to “save the Summer Carnival” at Cowes has failed to attract community support, falling well short of its target of 10,000 signatures.
The online campaign was launched by Phillip Island Web Radio’s Johnny Cantone on January 11 in an attempt to stop Bass Coast Shire Council compulsorily acquiring the Ventnor Road carnival site for redevelopment into a public recreational hub, eventually incorporating an aquatic centre.
“Support this cause if you care about you and your family and families of the community,” the petition urges, questioning why Council would choose to “displace” the carnival operators from their land, when “they already have 40 acres close by which they can build on,” referring to the neighbouring Hilton Chadwick Reserve.
“If this is how they aim to treat this family, how do you think they will treat your family in the future?” the petition description reads.
“Let’s all do something about it.”
But in four weeks, just 106 people have pledged their support. As a proportion of the population of Phillip Island, according to 2016 census data, that’s about one per cent.
Secretary of the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre Fund (PIACF) Peter McMahon is not surprised by this result, saying it reflects the sentiment of the community, who are “100 per cent behind” the vision for a recreational hub.
“It’s a case of giving residents of the shire something that is really required,” Peter said.
“They only hold the carnival over the summer when tourists and holidaymakers are down. They’re the ones that utilise the carnival; for the rest of the year, there’s nothing.
“It would be far better to have something on that land that will give people somewhere to exercise, invigorate, recuperate. Something for the whole of the island and the shire.”
Established in 2000, the PIACF has long campaigned for a multi-use, aquatic facility on Phillip Island, and Peter says the community are getting “sick and tired” of waiting.
“It’s getting to the stage where we have, over 25 years of the Bass Coast Shire’s existence, been built up to be told ‘yes, something will happen,’ then had the feet cut from under us and gone back to ground zero,” he said.
“The whole area of Phillip Island is really, really under stress for recreational room. We have one football ground that cannot cope with the number of teams using it; the community have been wanting a hydrotherapy or warm water exercise pool for years and years and years.
“To be able to establish a first-class recreational precinct through that acquisition will definitely make all things possible, and will be a fantastic step in the right direction in terms of rebuilding trust in the Bass Coast Shire Council in managing the island.”
The owner of the property in question, 77-year-old Brian Watkins, spends most of the year travelling with the carnival, but had been planning to build a home at Cowes.
He’s vowed to fight to keep the carnival going at Cowes, despite Council formally initiating the compulsory acquisition process in November 2019.
He’s suggested Council could lease him a four-hectare section of the 16.3ha block, over the summer months, but he says Council have not been willing to enter into negotiations.
“They don’t want to listen. It’s wrong. They’re not doing anything with [the land] for years – why can’t they just leave us a few acres on the corner?” he said.
“It’s ridiculous what they’ve done to us.”
The land was once owned by the local council before it was sold off.
But now they want it back.
Council told the Sentinel-Times it was undertaking the Public Acquisition Overlay process in relation to the site “for the purpose of future recreation needs on Phillip Island,” and that “while this process is underway, it is not appropriate to comment on land use arrangements,” such as the possibility of a lease arrangement.
Peter said the PIACF committee were “waiting with anticipation” for the completion of the acquisition process.
“We’re all hoping it will go ahead. We think the carnival has done a great job, but it would be fantastic to be able to put an aquatic centre there, to allow people to recuperate and recover from old age and injuries. And we can’t forget what it will do for our young people in teaching them to swim,” he said.
Submissions relating to the planning scheme amendment (C153), which “applies a Public Acquisition Overlay (PAO) over the land for the purpose of reserving and acquiring the land to establish and enhance the public open space network on Phillip Island,” closed in December 2019.
Council will decide the next steps for the amendment, including the option of going to a Planning Panel Hearing, at the Ordinary Council Meeting coming up at Inverloch on Wednesday, February 19.
The amendment will ultimately require approval by the state government, and construction of recreation and aquatics facilities on the island will rely on state and federal government funding.
In December 2019, Council resolved to advocate for upwards of $30 million for the projects.