By Kirra Grimes

IN the lead up to Bass Coast Shire Council’s 2020 elections, a volunteer committee is ramping up a long-running campaign for improved aquatics facilities on Phillip Island, unveiling a concept plan for what they want to see built on the former Cowes carnival site.

The Phillip Island Aquatic Centre Fund (PIACF) has been advocating for an aquatics centre for Phillip Island for a quarter of a century, and committee member Peter McMahon said council’s recent efforts to acquire the carnival grounds at the intersection of Phillip Island and Ventnor Roads for this purpose represented “a major milestone that must be celebrated”.

But with council dividing its $2.825 million 2020-21 budget allocation for ‘aquatics planning and design’ between developments proposed for both Wonthaggi and Phillip Island, the PIACF is making the case that the Island should be the priority.

Highlighting the Island’s lack of existing aquatics facilities, and reputation as a major tourist destination, they’re calling on the next council to build the Phillip Island Aquatics Centre first, and ensure it gets equivalent or better facilities than Wonthaggi.

“In an ideal world, council would build two equivalent 50-metre ‘sister pools’ in the shire… even the building of two equivalent 25-metre pools, designed to be extended to 50 metres if finances allow, is desirable,” Mr McMahon said.

PIACF is strongly advocating for a 50-metre pool on the Island, arguing it would “pay its way”, plus provide a huge boost for tourism in the shire and its economy.

“With a huge amount of accommodation available on the Island, a local aquatics centre could be marketed for multi-day training camps and carnivals,” Mr McMahon explained.

“The drawcard of holding such events in a tourist destination appears to be very strong,” he said. “The committee has already been approached about these, even though we have no pool!”

There was also a seasonal demand from tourists and school camps – estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 people per annum – that could be tapped into, he said.

A council media release in August stated leisure centre industry leaders Otium Consulting were in the initial stages of developing a business case including operational and concept plans for a new Phillip Island Aquatic and Leisure Centre and a redeveloped Bass Coast Aquatic and Leisure Centre in Wonthaggi.

Once the business case was completed, council would “consider its options on how each will be progressed to detailed design and then subsequently funded, including expected timelines for each”, they said at the time, with nothing further to add when contacted for an update last week.

The development of a Phillip Island Aquatics and Recreation Precinct is expected to cost around $47 million, while the redevelopment of Wonthaggi’s 40-year-old aquatics centre is estimated at $30 million, with council resolving in December 2019 to advocate state and federal governments for these amounts.

Outgoing Island Ward Cr Stephen Fullarton was confident in council’s ability to acquire the Cowes carnival site – despite difficulties negotiating with the landowner – and to secure external funding to complete the Phillip Island project.

“There’s funding now to have it designed, and as soon as it’s designed and shovel-ready, there’s going to be significant funding available for that type of facility as part of post-COVID recovery,” he said, adding he hoped the next council wouldn’t be “Wonthaggi-centric” in its approach to aquatics or other matters.

More details of PIACF’s aspirational plan will be revealed at their virtual AGM, coming up on Tuesday, October 6, on their website


Budget reduction explained

Shire CEO Ali Wastie recently responded to queries about the reduction in the allocation for aquatics planning and design from $3.08 million in the draft 2020-21 budget to $2.825 million in the adopted budget, explaining the draft budget had overestimated the design cost and the reduction “does not represent a change in project scope”.

“The savings on this budget are informed by advice that council has on appropriate funding requirements for these two projects. The $250,000 saving has been reallocated to the Wonthaggi Activity Centre Plan,” Ms Wastie said.