ACTING in the role of chair in a council meeting requires control and discipline. In order to control the discussion or debate, the chair is expected to remain neutral and encourage the healthy debate of an issue. As one who is quite at home with a robust debate, I find that sometimes I miss the opportunity to join in and offer another perspective on an issue before the chair.
At our most recent council meeting, in March, I decided that on the issue of the proposed location of the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre, which is something very important to me and to the people I represent on Phillip Island, I must remove myself from the chair and involve myself in the debate.
The issue before the chair was the proposal that the future aquatic centre on Phillip Island be located at the south end of what had been designed and planned to be the transit hub. Running between Chapel and Church Streets behind the Cowes Cultural Centre, the transit hub offered over 200 new parking spaces for Cowes.
On the day of the December council meeting, councillors learned of a proposal to squeeze a two-storey aquatic centre, complete with gym facility, into the southern end of the transit hub, thus reducing the parking spaces by about half.
The presentation of the proposed aquatic centre was very professional. We learned what was needed to make an aquatic centre successful in regional Victoria – location was at the forefront. A central location was imperative. We learned that a number of other sites on the island had been considered, and of these sites, the location at the southern end of the proposed transit hub presented the best opportunity for the aquatic centre.
I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that many councillors felt a level of confusion after that presentation. I certainly did.
At last month’s council meeting, we had the opportunity to make the decision on the proposed location of the aquatic centre in Church Street, Cowes. Leading up to the meeting I did a bit of research as to just how much of a strategic imperative a CBD location was for a successful regional aquatic centre. I was also concerned that future expansion to the centre for the Phillip Island community was limited or non-existent.
I also felt that the calculation on the demands on parking was flawed – parking at the revamped transit hub had been reduced to something like 113 spaces, yet the aquatic centre would increase parking requirements – as indeed would the forecast permanent population growth of some 37 per cent by 2035. Then of course, we need to look at the increase in tourism – which has been estimated to double within the next 18 years.
How will this affect traffic flows in the CBD? Especially with the health hub almost next door.
Indeed, should our aquatic centre be in the middle of the CDB at all?
I have looked into a number of successful regional aquatic centres. In speaking to the motion during the March council meeting, I drew comparisons on two well-known and beautiful aquatic centres in Mildura and Ballarat.
Mildura’s is certainly centrally located in town – but it is one block out of the CBD.
I finished by saying that I cannot support an aquatic centre in the proposed location. I know this is disappointing to the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre working group. They have worked tirelessly for more than 20 years and were looking to finally have some “closure” on a location for an aquatic centre on Phillip Island. However, this is not a reason to accept a totally unsuitable position.
Phillip Island needs an aquatic centre, I am a great supporter of that, but it does not need a centre to be shoe-horned into a location that presents no future for expansion. A location which is totally unsuitable in relation to traffic congestion and a location which reduces much-needed parking in our CBD.
We WILL be looking for and we WILL find a suitable location for the Phillip Island Aquatic Centre. It will offer everything needed for a growing community and will be something to be proud of.
Pamela Rothfield is Bass Coast Mayor.