Objective 4 of the project brief states that the business case should “… investigate benchmark environmental standards required for the development and maintenance of a vehicle ferry and passenger ferry infrastructure and operations.” The draft business case doesn’t do this; rather it sets out the legislative hurdles for environmental approval.
We’ve had a question tonight about the impact of a car ferry terminal on the habitat of the weedy sea dragon and this is unresolved. The proposed site is immediately adjacent to a declared Ramsar Wetland site, which is merely stated in the paper. It is proposed to be built over a prime northern beach valued by locals and visitors as well as for its habitat value. The proposal needs a thorough environmental assessment and assurance of no ongoing impact.
While the sites have been selected with a view to avoid the need for dredging it has the worrying rider that detailed design will determine whether dredging is necessary. That is a crucial issue and must be understood upfront.
The report states that the preferred site precludes the necessity for the replacement of the Cowes Jetty. I’m not all happy with this and indeed it is contrary to the council’s own advocacy strategy whereby the replacement of Cowes Jetty is a key ask of Government.
I am concerned about Bass Coast Shire’s exposure to expenditure for this project and note that the report suggests that Parks Victoria will maintain the ferry infrastructure. The current jetty is maintained by Parks Victoria but has load limits imposed on it – it cannot take vehicles – so I am not reassured by that claim.
We are in the middle of the Jetty Triangle refurbishment, the sweet spot of Cowes as identified in the Cowes Activity Centre Plan. What is the impact of the proposed car ferry and infrastructure on this project? The draft business case doesn’t refer at all to the Cowes Activity Centre Plan. It does reference the Phillip Island Integrated Transport Study, which is good, but the Activity Centre Plan is a centrepiece of our planning for the future. These strategies deal with traffic and parking issues in The Esplanade, as well as development sites at the Isle of Wight and old Warley site.
We cannot look at the future through the prism of the past; it must be demonstrated how the car ferry fits with this agenda.
The business case mentions the high disadvantage rating on Phillip Island and suggests the project would have a positive impact, as well suggesting that it would allow people to travel for services such as health care. I reject that on a couple of levels: firstly comprehensive plans are being implemented to better address health needs right here in Cowes with a medical and community health hub. We are also advocating to the State Government for a 24-hour pharmacy and nurse. Disadvantaged people will not achieve wealth or income effects from the project and should not be used in this way.
The other form of social impact I expect to be addressed is the impact on people’s enjoyment of this area, including the immediate neighbours. I want this discussed and assessed. We’ve heard concerns about the impact on the operations of the yacht club and this must be understood and defined.
The draft business case estimates a $12 million benefit for savings on transport due to people using the ferry. Feedback from the public to VicRoads discussing issues with the Phillip Island Road and bridge infrastructure are mentioned as if it has some authority. The lead consultant, who also did the Visitor Economy strategy for Council, has briefed us that the bridge provides a capacity regulator. The Island becomes over-crowded at about 28,000 visitors a day. The optimum is 24,000. He has argued against duplication. And it becomes a requirement for demand management initiatives beyond that.
To claim that those things will therefore not be necessary with a car ferry is misleading. Similarly, to suggest that congestion will not occur – that there will be zero road closures – is also misleading.
In 2015 Phillip Island received 1.8 million visitors. Of those, 20,000 came by passenger ferry. The car is forecast to deliver 164,000 visitors to Phillip Island in 2023. There will be little impact on the road usage.
Where there is a case is the touring public and it’s a good argument. Currently only about one per cent of this market visits Mornington and Phillip Island whereas some six per cent visit Gippsland. But these are largely new visitors who are not coming otherwise, so I struggle to see how there is scope to claim a transport offset.
We need to ask ourselves why they would stay. I commend the State Government for its investment in Phillip Island – the Penguin Parade, the Woolamai roundabout and much more. But the Island infrastructure is tired. We have an aspirational pathways plan that must become perspirational, but alas there is no money allocated. To attract overnight visitors, we need excellent environmental, recreational and hospitality infrastructure. That’s the challenge.
There is still a lot of work to be done, including picking up from the wisdom of our community through their input to the consultation process.
This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Cr Michael Whelan at Wednesday night’s council meeting when councillors voted to release the draft business case for a car ferry for public feedback. Feedback will be collected via an online survey and at drop-in sessions at the Mussel Rocks barbecue area on The Esplanade in Cowes from 10am-4pm on March 11, 12, 13, 19 and 20.