Council approved the plan three votes to one at last month’s ordinary meeting, after weighing up more than 50 submissions to a draft of the policy.
While dual use of the park will continue, some areas will be restricted to tents and caravans of less than six metres in length and new off-limits vegetation reserves will be created. And a late amendment to the plan could pave the way for permanent camping to be phased out altogether, in line with Victorian Government policy to make crown land accessible to all.
“Council values the dual use of the park as a space for recreation and as a campground in the summer months. While we’ve had to close some sites to allow for revegetation works to take place, this new policy will give campers and the community certainty about the park’s future and begin the process of restoring the park’s canopy and character,” a Council spokesperson said.
“Nearly 80 percent of the camp sites across Victoria Park and the Queenscliff Recreation Reserve will remain available for camping in summer under the new policy.”
A fence, erected around the park's perimeter as part of a WorkSafe safety order, will be removed shortly and a revegetation program would commence in coming months, the spokesperson said.
Camping will resume on the last weekend of November and continue until the end of April.
A draft of the plan was put out for public comment for 14 days in August, attracting 52 submissions - with arguments both strongly in favour of and opposed to camping.
“It was really difficult because a lot of the submissions were ‘no camping’ and a lot of them were ‘full camping, don’t close any of the sites,’” said Cr Fleur Hewitt. “And we’re looking to create big vegetation reserves to try and at least get back some of the beautiful vegetation that’s been lost in recent months.
“We’re trying to strike the balance between … enabling vegetation to grow again and also safeguarding some of the revenue generated by the park and enable it to be used into the future by not only residents and ratepayers, but also visitors,” she said.
One of two last minute amendments to the plan, moved by Cr Isabelle Tolhurst, was aimed at ensuring the new management plan complied with State Government policy relating to equity and access to crown land and camping reserves.
That legislation, introduced in 2010, states that Crown land caravan and camping parks should provide affordable holiday opportunities to all Victorians and should not be managed for exclusive long-term occupancy and permanent residency.
“The [Victoria Park] policy is one that seeks continuous improvement, so it will be reviewed regularly, and we’ve built that into the policy, but also it will lock into things like the Coastal and Marine Management Plan (CMMP) once it’s created and important key documents Council is working on,” Cr Tolhurst said.
The policy will cost the borough $168,000 in lost camping revenue annually and in the vicinity of a further $50,000 for construction of new paths and signage.
The current BoQ Budget includes $40,000 for replanting works. A further $17,000 has been secured by the Friends of Victoria Park through a Queen’s Jubilee revegetation grants program.
Donnie Grigau - the only Councillor to vote against the new plan - said he had a “major issue” in approving it in the absence of an updated CMMP.
“Our current coastal management plan was dated 2006, which we don’t actually have access to on the website. “It’s pretty poor that we’ve got a 16 year old document, that we don’t actually have, to reference as a guide in paper for anything that we do,” Cr Grigau said.
The park has remained closed since June, after WorkSafe declared numerous trees - some damaged in a major storm last October - posed a public safety risk and ordered upwards of 30 be removed, lopped or pruned.
Despite community anger, legal advice obtained by the Council confirmed the agency had acted “reasonably” and within its jurisdiction in ordering the works.