PHILLIP Island, and the Bass Coast region, has taken a big step towards the development of a major sports hub and aquatic centre at Cowes.

In the past few days, the Bass Coast Shire Council has finally sealed the deal for the purchase of the 16.3 hectare property, on the corner of Phillip Island Road and Ventnor Road, for $2.7 million.

The owner of the property, Brian Watkins representing the Watkins family, wanted $3 million initially, then $2.8m but ultimately settled for $2.7m to avoid the hassle of a compulsory acquisition process and possible court action.

Bass Coast CEO Ali Wastie announced the development over the weekend.

“Council has reached an agreement for the purchase of the property commonly referred to as the Carnival site from the vendor (Watkins family).

“Council has not used its compulsory acquisition powers for the purchase of this site.

“The sale was negotiated and agreed to with the vendor on a voluntary basis. The relevant contracts and supporting documentation are being finalised.”

The whole process has left operator of the Island Summer Carnival, Brian Watkins, a lifelong carnival man, with a bad taste in his mouth.

Although the $2.7 million selling price has eased the disappointment a little.

“They contacted my wife and said they’d be prepared to take $2.6 and she was inclined to take it just to get it over with,” said Brian.

“It’s been pretty stressful.

“I asked them for $2.8 but finally agreed to $2.7m. It’s $2 million for the land and $700,000 compensation for the loss of our livelihood.”

Mr Watkins said he would quite happily have lived on the site be bought 23 years ago and, with his family, continued to provide the Island with its summer entertainment but he doubted the Summer Carnival would return.

“Russell will probably run a few rides up there on the Anglican Church site, but we haven’t been able to find alternative land in our price range.

“If anyone has got a couple of acres close to Cowes for sale I’d like to hear about it.

“It’s terribly disappointing to us and I feel we’ve been pressured into it in the end, given only a few days to decide or else and my wife has frankly had enough.”

Mr Watkins said he was bemused to be told, by the shire, after they’d pressured him to decide with a couple of days that they’d like a few months to pay.

“Maybe they need that time to raise the money,” he said.

Secretary of the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre Fund Inc, Peter McMahon, welcomed the news but he had a sympathetic word for the Watkins family.

“They’ve bee caught up in this and I think it’s reasonable now to give them time to come to terms with moving.

“We’d like to see a sign go up ‘Future Site for the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre’ but I think that should wait until Brian and his family have been given the time they need.

“But it is a step forward for the community yes and we now want to see how the shire intends to go about it.

“The planning is underway for both aquatic centres, here and at Wonthaggi and I think the publication of the business cases for each will be crucial.”

Mr McMahon said his group remained committed to the potential for the Island facility to host major swimming and water sports events, but only if the shire opted for a 50-metre, Olympic pool.

“We’ve a variety of accommodation here and such a facility would provide a big economic boost.

“These are exactly the sorts of projects we need to be looking for coming out of COVID but also to diversify the Island’s economy.

“I’ll be interested to see if the shire’s business case fleshes those opportunities out.”

Background

Here are some background details provided by the shire:

“The land is located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Phillip Island and Ventnor Roads, also known as the Cowes Carnival Site. “The land will be home to the Phillip Island Aquatics and Recreation Precinct, which will provide Phillip Island with essential recreation and aquatics facility to improve the health and wellbeing of the local community and visitors to the Island.”

The shire’s 2018/19 budget listed $2 million for the acquisition of the land, while in April 2018 the owners were served with a notice of intention to acquire the property.

The shire last year also released a funding wish list for State and Federal governments, including $17 million to develop the sports hub and $30 million for a new aquatic’s facility.