ARARAT - Pyrenees Caravan Park owners Ian and Jillian Heffernan have taken the extraordinary step of publicly criticising the proposals of Ararat Rural City Council to lease out Green Hill Lake Reserve for development and commercial operation.
The couple who have managed the Pyrenees Highway park for seven years said it has not been easy but the decision to go public with their concerns is as a direct result of continued attempts to put their case to council falling on deaf ears.
"We don't want to sound like a whinging business, we've been here for seven years and in that time rolled with the punches, but the show bags that we were handed in the lead up to the Jailhouse Rock Festival were the final straw."
Mr Heffernan is referring to show bags that were given to businesses by Council staff under the instruction they distribute them to visitors to the town over the festival weekend to promote Green Hill Lake.
The Heffernans believe they are among a majority of the Ararat business community that has grown concerned with the expenditure of ratepayer funds at Green Hill Lake at the expense of existing businesses in the town and are outraged at the prospect Green Hill Lake could become a fully operating caravan park.
"ARCC has increased its rates by 168 percent over 10 years. It imposes rates on our commercial land at 120 percent of the general rate," Mr Heffernan said.
"It has been spending this revenue to compete with us, unfairly, sneakily disguising Green Hill Lake fees as compulsory donations.
"Now it asks us to promote Green Hill Lake at our cost and to our detriment. Where do these people get off?"
Council has resolved to look at leasing out all or part of the Green Hill Lake Reserve which would leave the management to a body which could develop the reserve as a caravan park or have it remain a simple camping ground.
At present council is the Committee of Management for the crown land reserve and is responsible for the day to day management of the reserve, including the waterways management for the lake.
The Green Hill Lake Development Board undertakes several maintenance and supervisory tasks, including mowing and minor clean ups.
Council has been negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with the development board as it advises it on new initiatives and is the main driver for improvements and development.
"They are not compliant with the regulations, we are, and the money and upkeep for the area that all comes from us as ratepayers," Mr Heffernan said.
"Whenever we hear that the development board has received money we think it has to have come from somewhere and as a result someone else is missing out.
"People have the right to camp out there, if they choose to. We are all for leisure, bird watching, fitness activities and when there is water, fishing and boating, but not a powered caravan park."
Mr Heffernan said they haven't increased their prices for five years as a direct result of the increased competition posed by what he believes equates to free camping.
"Just think all this money they are spending on the lake, out of town, could be going into something like an outdoor pool," Mrs Heffernan said.
The Heffernans have also raised the issue of a timely and organised response by council to licensing arrangements.
Caravan parks are required to apply for a new licence every three years and were directed to submit their paperwork for renewal to council by October.
They did, and argue that the ARCC has not complied with its legal obligation to renew their registration by December 31, 2013.
As a result they believe they are now in effect operating without a licence because of Council's omission.
"How can they be spending all this money, time and resources on Green Hill Lake which has no emergency plan, no firefighting resources, no onsite management no regard for public safety when we can't even get our licensed renewed?" Mr Heffernan said.
Ararat Rural City Council CEO Andrew Evans said council is awaiting a report from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) before it can finalise the licensing process.
"The reality is that part of the process is to have the CFA carry out inspections and get back to us with their reports, but they have not been able to carry these out yet as a result of the fires this summer," he said.
"Yes, admittedly it has taken longer than it should have but it is purely an administrative process and they (Pyrenees Caravan Park) have nothing to worry about."