Corangamite Shire makes call to arms

Traffic chaos: Government funding to improve tourism on the Great Ocean Road is one of Corangamite Shire's major priorities.
Traffic chaos: Government funding to improve tourism on the Great Ocean Road is one of Corangamite Shire's major priorities.

More than $160 million. That’s what it will take to secure the future success of Corangamite Shire.

The south-west municipality is home to the Twelve Apostles, historically-significant buildings and one of the richest dairying areas in the nation, but when it comes to funding support, Corangamite has felt largely ignored.

The council is now getting on the front foot. With a state election looming and state and federal governments beginning budget deliberations, Corangamite wants to leave politicians in no doubt of what its priorities are.

Of course, the shire knows it won’t get it all, but CEO Andrew Mason said actively campaigning and putting a dollar value on its projects gives the council the best chance of success.

“We think that these are really important for our community, they’re the sort of projects that will really make a big difference to the sustainability and viability of Corangamite Shire,” Mr Mason said.

Roads, Shipwreck Coast Master Plan projects and policy changes to support industry growth top the list.

Corangamite has hit the campaign trail armed with a glossy priorities document presented at meetings with state government, shadow ministers and local members. It will also launch a widespread social media campaign.

Mr Mason said the shire was doing things differently in the hope it would be heard.

“Previously we have probably just talked about what we need, we’ve tried to be really targeted this time and put some figures on it. This is a bit of a call to arms to our community.

“We know if the community gets behind it and also starts talking to their elected reps or the opposition that can be a really powerful way to get the message across.

“It’s important that the state and federal governments hear about these priorities… not just (from) council and that’s why we wanted to bring the community along on this journey.” 

Mayor Jo Beard said it was important Corangamite continued to push its case.

“Whenever we get that opportunity we have to take it. This isn’t considered too early to start pushing those priorities across considering we’re probably 12 months from the election,” she said.

Acting Minister for Regional Development Jacinta Allan said as part of the state government’s regional partnerships program, upcoming regional assemblies were giving people a “direct voice into state government decision making”. 

“On October 12 several government ministers will be in Portland for the Great South Coast Regional Assembly, and we look forward to meeting people from south-west Victoria and hearing exactly what their major concerns are,” she said.

“This follows the Great South Coast Regional Assembly, which took place in Port Fairy last year and led to Corangamite Shire sharing in more than $500 million to improve regional roads and bridges. 

“All feedback from our 2017 Regional Assemblies will be considered as we begin to plan next year's budget and decide where funds are most needed." 

Roads remain top of agenda in funding fight

Despite repeated lobbying to government, Corangamite Shire’s arterial road network remains one of the worst in the state.

A report from the auditor-general released earlier this year showed that more than 15 per cent of its VicRoads network is in a poor or distressed condition, one of the lowest possible rankings. The amount of roads in this state has doubled in a decade. 

Corangamite Shire warns that while successive state budgets continue to ignore the issue, the roads bill keeps on climbing.

Director of works and services Brooke Love has plenty of experience making the council’s case on roads.

Mrs Love is also heading up and is also heading up a new region-wide project to gather data on where upgrades are needed most to support bigger vehicles transporting the region’s products. 

Mrs Love said time and again the public’s list of worst roads, as captured in the shire’s community satisfaction survey, was naming VicRoads’ roads that are out of the council’s control.

In its push to state government, the shire is calling for $55 million just to get these state roads up to scratch – listing the Lavers Hill-Cobden Road ($8.5 million), Terang-Mortlake Road ($1.75 million) and Lismore-Skipton Road ($2 million) as the biggest priorities.

“But ultimately it’s every kilometre you travel,” Mrs Love said of the VicRoads network.

“We’re saying it’s $55 million to bring that level of distressed roads, 110 kilometres of state government roads, up to just a normal standard.”

Rough ride: Corangamite Shire councillors Neil Trotter, Helen Durant, Jo Beard, Ruth Gstrein, Bev McArthur, Lesley Brown and Simon Illingworth on one of the shire's crumbling arterial roads.

Rough ride: Corangamite Shire councillors Neil Trotter, Helen Durant, Jo Beard, Ruth Gstrein, Bev McArthur, Lesley Brown and Simon Illingworth on one of the shire's crumbling arterial roads.

Data on the freight routes study, which will identify council and state government roads most in need of works to support industry, is expected in April.

Mrs Love said the information would then be added to the arsenal in the fight for cash. “When we get that piece of paper, we need money to fund those roads.”

Blazing a trail for tourism

The Twelve Apostles attracts more than 2.6 million visitors each year. In peak times, tourists struggle to find a car park and jostle for a view of the icon, before most make the trip back to Melbourne.

The average stay is less than 40 minutes, with many leaving disappointed.

The state government-endorsed Shipwreck Coast Master Plan is hoping to change that with a range of projects to improve visitor experience and boost local jobs and the economy.

However, projects in the plan were overlooked in the last state budget. About $9.8-million has been allocated since the plan was launched in 2015, well short of the $150-million needed to complete the vision.

Corangamite Shire has listed three major Shipwreck Coast projects – a visitor experience centre at Glenample ($50-$60 million), an overhaul of Port Campbell’s streetscape ($10 million), and linking Timboon and Port Campbell to the Twelve Apostles Trail ($8 million) – as among its priority projects.

For those making the return trip to Melbourne, Corangamite Shire is also advocating for $29 million to upgrade hinterland routes that link drivers back with the Princes Highway. It also wants to see a single Great Ocean Road Authority to cut red tape and improve management of the area.

CEO Andrew Mason said what was a renowned tourist icon was “just struggling”.

“We think there’s a really compelling case for the state government, in particular, to really substantially fund Shipwreck Coast Master Plan. The projects are known, the business case is done, it’s just that it needs some money now,” he said.

An artist impression of a revamped Port Campbell town green proposed as part of the Shipwreck Coast Master Plan.

An artist impression of a revamped Port Campbell town green proposed as part of the Shipwreck Coast Master Plan.

The Glenample visitor centre, designed to take the pressure off the Twelve Apostles precinct, would offer car parking, linking trails to nearby sites, a children’s farm and a cafe showcasing local produce.

Shire works and services director Brooke Love said the integration of the Twelve Apostles trail in the master plan was a major victory.

“A very important part of the trail for us is the connection between Timboon and Port Campbell because that effectively connects the hinterland to the coast.

“People can come down, change the way they visit Timboon, change the way they visit Port Campbell through cycling. There’s an opportunity for a niche product around cycling and connecting those towns.”

The trail also links up with the rail trail from Timboon to Camperdown, providing a link with train services at Camperdown. The council estimates the project would boost visitor numbers and bring in millions of dollars.

Mr Mason said the council had already spent money on the project and was well advanced in planning. “If we got the funding from federal or state government, we could pretty much start that project very quickly.”