In 2014, the Queenscliffe Council made a move to commercially develop the Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff Lighthouse Reserves. The Council claimed only commercial development could stem the financial impost placed on Council from running these iconic sites. The Queenscliffe Mayor, Helene Cameron, went so far as to claim that mowing costs alone could cost up to $50,000. It has now emerged that up to 2016 the Council spent only $5,000 in total on both Lonsdale and Queenscliffe Reserves!
To bolster its views, the Council spent over $150,000 on two consultancies which not surprisingly backed its viewpoint that development would solve the Council's financial worries. Nevertheless, the Council decided to hear the views of the community and undertook a survey in 2015. The results were a shock to the Council as it received a bloody nose from the Point Lonsdale community and dropped development plans quickly. However, for the hapless Queenscliff voters it was a different outcome: 320 survey responses were received and figures told an unambiguous story - almost 80% opted for no development as their 1st or 2nd preference.
You would have thought that would be the end of it, but no, the Council made the astonishing statement in relation to the Queenscliff Reserve that "whilst the community consultation outcomes indicate that Option 2 (Landscape Improvements) is most favoured, the response is not overwhelming or emphatic."
In 2015, the Council made the unilateral decision to press ahead with development of the Queenscliff Reserve - the only problem was how to pay for it. Then the Council had a brainwave - in the May 2016 Victorian budget, the Borough of Queenscliffe received $3.15M to fund the upgrade of the Queenscliff Sport and Recreation Precinct (an election commitment). The funding came through the State Government’s Community Sports Infrastructure Fund which is administered by the Department of Health and Community Services. The Borough of Queenscliffe then leveraged of this first grant to apply for a second grant from the National Stronger Regional Fund (NSRF) for $3.49M for the construction of new tourist housing and works around Fort Queenscliff. Additionally the Council has thrown in $350,000 of ratepayer money into the pot to fund the project. Click the button below to read just what the Council claimed in its Business Case in order to get almost $7 million as a 'disadvantaged' region facing high unemployment and sagging 'wellness'.
It was only in late 2016 the scope of what the Council was planning was revealed as the Queenscliff Community Association forced the release of the Business Case via a Freedom of Information request. The Business Case was shown to be comprised of incorrect assumptions and erroneous conclusions. While the upgrade of the sporting and camping facilities was welcome, it turned out there was precious little justification for the requirement to build 10 two-storey tourist buildings on public Crown Land on Shortland Bluff. Read the review of the Council's consultancy work below and see if you think its conclusions were reasonable and represented value for money for ratepayers.
Then in early 2017 came further pressure on the Council - 15 local accommodation providers claimed the tourist housing development would undermine their businesses. Mariners claimed the two-storey buildings behind the White Lighthouse and adjoining towers would dangerously interfere with safe navigation. The Victorian National Parks Association bemoaned the further loss of coastal open space. Many in the community were deeply offended the Council went against the unambiguous vote to leave Shortland Bluff alone. These were serious complaints which came on top of the substantial errors and unsubstantiated claims in the Business Case. Based on the review of the Business Case, a formal request was made to the Commonwealth and State Governments to review the funding decision before the Council starts work.
On 12 July 2017, in order to protect the outstanding heritage values of Shortland Bluff and Fort Queenscliff, an application for a Emergency National Heritage listing of Shortland Bluff was been made to the the Minister for the Environment and Energy. The application was made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 S.324JL(1)(a)(b) and (c) which requires the national heritage values of a site to be under imminent threat of a significant adverse impact. Needless to say the Queenscliffe Council's ill-considered idea of putting 10 two-storey houses on this wonderful site complies. Remarkably, the Council CEO wrote to the Minister for the Environment in August 2017 downplaying the heritage values of Shortland Bluff while maintaining its right to commercially develop the whole area spurious consultation. Read both the National Heritage application and the Council's letter by clicking below.
There was increasing pressure applied to the Council and by 2017 numerous media outlets, organizations and politicians had picked up on the story: