By Kirra Grimes
A PUBLIC recreation and aquatics hub proposed for Cowes, Phillip Island, is a step closer, with Bass Coast Shire Council moving forward with the acquisition of 16.3 hectares of land on the corner of Phillip Island Road and Ventnor Road.
A planning scheme amendment (C153), to apply a public acquisition overlay to the site for the purpose of developing a recreation and aquatic precinct, was adopted at last Wednesday’s ordinary council meeting, with several councillors voicing support for the initiative.
“I look forward to the development of the site into the sporting precinct we desperately need on Phillip Island,” Island Ward Cr Stephen Fullarton told the meeting.
“We’re outgrowing everything. Our aquatic centre is the driver for this [but] extra football, sporting grounds, a whole sporting precinct is required,” he said.
The amendment received three submissions while on public exhibition, from November 6 to December 9, 2019, but none of these was an objection.
That means council can proceed in presenting the amendment to the state government’s Minister for Planning for consideration, with no need to go through a panel hearing.
If approved by the Minister, council, which already owns the neighbouring Hilton Chadwick Reserve, would have a contiguous land parcel of 32.64 hectares at its disposal.
This is considered to be “enough land to meet the growing recreational needs of Phillip Island,” according to the officer’s report presented at last week’s meeting.
Carnival family fights on
The current owner of the land, Brian Watkins, who does not want to sell, decided to take a different avenue rather than lodge an objection through the formal exhibition process.
Brian’s daughter-in-law Amanda told the Sentinel-Times: “We did discuss it with our lawyers, whether it would be worthwhile [lodging an objection], but at the time, we’d put an offer back to council to ask if we could negotiate and retain part of the land.”
Amanda said three generations of the Watkins family regarded the site as their home and could not understand why council was trying to “displace” them for recreation facilities “that could be put somewhere else”.
“We don’t want to lose our property when it doesn’t need to be taken,” she said. “There are other sites; there are people that want to sell their land.”
Council has offered to lease part of the land to allow the family to continue to operate their Island Summer Carnival each year, Amanda said, but the location offered was “not suitable” as it was away from existing infrastructure such as power and water supply.
The family plans to continue to fight the acquisition with an “army” of lawyers, a direct appeal to the planning minister, and a petition.
Brian, 77, was disappointed he didn’t have more opportunity to voice his opposition at last week’s council meeting.
“It’s wrong what they’re doing. They’re getting away with murder,” he said.
“I wanted to get up and talk, but you can’t open your mouth to say anything. They’ve already made their decision. It’s all one-way traffic.”