THE Cowes jetty is back on the table as a possible terminal for a car ferry service to the Mornington Peninsula.
Earlier meetings on the issue were hostile, with members of the gallery jeering and shouting at councillors. Two police officers attended on Wednesday but did not witness anything more disorderly than a passionate but respectful debate among councillors.
Following the long debate, councillors voted six to three to back a car ferry “in principle” but declined to endorse a business case study that nominated Mussell Rocks as the preferred location for a terminal.
Instead the council will ask the State Government to investigate the Cowes jetty as a possible terminal site, including an assessment of the impacts on traffic and parking in Cowes, the Jetty Triangle redevelopment and the environment.
Mayor Pamela Rothfield vacated the chair so she could take part in the debate. Beforehand, she called on the crowd to show respect for the councillors
“I know there are many people here who have very passionate views. I know many are concerned at the preferred terminal site at Mussell Rocks. I acknowledge there have been mistakes. But we are not hell bent on ramming through a car ferry at a location that the community opposes.”
Cr Rothfield argued that the council had a mandate for in-principle support for a car ferry, based on its own strategies, including the Cowes activity centre plan, the Phillip Island and San Remo Visitor Economy Strategy and the council plan adopted in June 2017. The strategies were developed following extensive community consultation.
She said surveys show continuing strong local support for a car ferry connecting Bass Coast and Phillip Island but concern about its location.
“Apart from the strategic justification, successive governments have sought to progress this project. This is the second highest tourist infrastructure project for the state. It’s extremely important that it's located where we want it to be located, or the decision as to where it should be located may be taken out of our hands.
Cr Rothfield said that as well as boosting year-round tourism, a regular and reliable car ferry service could become a real transport option for residents, with 10 trains a day leaving Stony Point. “I would certainly rather sit on the train to the city than in a car on the Monash Freeway.”
Cr Stephen Fullarton said councillors had endured a difficult two months with accusations that they had already made up their minds. “Now that we have considered the submissions, we’re in a position to make up our minds.
“Back in 2010 a proposal to put a car ferry terminal in front of present jetty was rejected out of hand. That was a massive structure. With the new proposal, we saw a low structure.
“If we're going to extend the jetty let’s put a restaurant out there and make it an iconic structure. In that regard I see no problem putting the car ferry out there.”
Cr Bruce Kent said he had an open mind about using the Cowes jetty for a car ferry terminal but predicted a backlash. “Part of the community has been silent because the current pier hasn't been on the table. I feel that if we start considering it we’ll hear from them.”
“If you're saying build it at the jetty, my fear is that we don’t know what we’ll be getting. As a youngster I walked out on the pier, jumped off the pier, went fishing off the pier. I have a fear that we could lose all that.
He said the council had been moving to making the Cowes esplanade pedestrian friendly, and those moves could be compromised by traffic from a car ferry.
Cr Clare Le Serve said it was critical that any proposal should require an environmental effects study.
“This proposal, no matter where it goes, is an $80 million investment in Phillip Island. We have always said that Phillip Island is under resourced. I think this is a large investment
Unless we move forward on looking at the jetty site we won't understand what it could be.
“In 2010 there was an artist impression of a car ferry terminal at the Cowes jetty. It looked like the Sydney harbour bridge. We’ve moved on now, we’re looking at something low impact. We need to move forward so we can get this answer. We need to look at something iconic.”
Cr Les Larke said he would not vote in favour of any beach location outlined in the business case but was open to having a car ferry that docked at the jetty. “On condition that the Victorian Government finances the infrastructure and ongoing maintenance and does not call on the council.”
He said he still had reservations on the business case and the economic viability of the project. “But there are potential benefits for the greater Bass Coast and Gippsland, and we are giving a strong indication that this council is open to encourage infrastructure projects for the benefit of our community.”
Cr Michael Whelan argued that giving in principle support on the car ferry would hand all the power to the State Government to proceed. “It’s an interesting position that we can agree with something before the case has been established.”
He also rejected the idea that the council should give ground or be shut out of the debate. “I reject the notion that the government will take it out of our hands. I get combative when something like that is thrown at me.”
He said a business case study was inadequate to consider the impacts of a car ferry. “The problem is that it is dealing with the issue in isolation. It's an issue but not THE issue.”
He said it was hard to see a car ferry as a panacea when visitor amenities were inadequate and there was little to encourage visitors to stay. He said the Visitor Economy Strategy outlined a vision and tools to try to save the environment of Phillip Island.
Cr Whelan acknowledged that the council had erred in excluding the current Cowes jetty from the design brief for the car ferry business case. He said the brief should also have required the consultants to consider how a car ferry related to the Cowes activity centre plan and the Phillip Island Transport Strategy and how it would change demand management.
“We want more tourists through the year but we do not want more tourists at the busy time of year.”
Cr Julian Brown said he was happy to see the scope of the study expanded to look at the jetty. “Last time it was raised in 2010 there was strong opposition. Many people will say it was around the scale and the design. If we did build something, hopefully it wouldn't be like that.
“But as Cr Kent said, we don't know what it would be. Would it be 10 metres? I have difficulty in giving support in principle without knowing the detail so I won't be supporting the recommendation.”
Cr Geoff Ellis questioned the priorities of the State Government in proposing to spend $80 million on a tourist car ferry. “Are we just providing in principle support of an expensive something?”
- Supports in principle a car ferry between Cowes and Stony Point, as per Council’s Phillip Island and San Remo Visitor Economy Strategy 2035 Growing Tourism
- Defers consideration of the Cowes to Stony Point Car Ferry Full Business Case, based on the feedback received from the community through the consultation process, until a comprehensive investigation is undertaken of whether the Cowes Jetty is a more suitable location for a Cowes car ferry terminal than the Mussel Rocks location proposed in the Final Business Case, including, but not limited to a detailed Traffic and Parking Impact Assessment; and an assessment of the impact of a car ferry terminal on the Jetty Triangle redevelopment objectives;
- Writes to the Victorian Minister for Regional Development to advise of Council’s in principle support for a car ferry and requests the Victorian Government fund a comprehensive investigation of the suitability of the Cowes Jetty as an option for the car ferry.
- Requires the Victorian Government to undertake a full Environmental Effects Assessment on the final preferred location.
- Advises the head petitioner and submitters of Council’s decision in relation to the Cowes to Stony Point Car Ferry.
- For: Councillors Fullarton, Kent, Larke, Le Serve, Tessari, othfield,
- Against: Councillors Brown, Ellis, Whelan