Track work earns shire rebuke

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Rocky path: Peter Ritchie’s efforts to help maintain a track leading to the leash-free area at Fossil Beach earned him a stern rebuke from the shire council. Picture: Cameron McCullough

Rocky path: Peter Ritchie’s efforts to help maintain a track leading to the leash-free area at Fossil Beach earned him a stern rebuke from the shire council. Picture: Cameron McCullough

A MORNINGTON resident has hit out at the shire council after being rebuked for voluntarily helping maintain a beach access track.

For the past four years, Peter Ritchie says he has trimmed back overgrowth, cleared fallen trees and branches and levelled washed away areas of a track leading from The Esplanade to the leash-free area at Fossil Beach.

But last week, Mr Ritchie made the apparent mistake of informing shire officials of his voluntary efforts after writing to the shire to suggest a number of measures to help improve the safety and amenity of the beach.

Not only were his suggestions rejected, he was also informed he had “no authority” to undertake any “vegetation management and path maintenance” in the area.

The emailed response to Mr Ritchie stated that “as you are not the delegated land manager for this foreshore reserve, you have no authority to undertake such activities which require a planning permit under the overlay provisions of the Mornington Peninsula Planning Scheme” and that any such works could only be undertaken by shire’s “natural systems or infrastructure maintenance teams”.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr Ritchie told The News. “Here I am trying to do the right thing, trying to do something to help out the community and not asking for any recognition or reward in return, only to be told off.

“Not only am I saving the shire money, but I’m actually helping keep people safe and making it easier for people to enjoy the area.”

“If it wasn’t for me spending hours down there every few months, the track would be completely impassable and overgrown.”

Mr Ritchie, who lives opposite track and uses it most days to access the rocky beach, said that “not once in three years has any authority or person removed one twig” from the rough pathway.

However, the shire’s strategic planning manager Allan Cowley said maintenance issues concerning access to the Fossil Beach leash free area had only recently been raised with the council and were now being investigated.

“The shire is the delegated land manager for this Crown land area and works undertaken must comply with maintenance standards to ensure community safety, adequate environment protection, and adherence with the planning provisions,” he told The News.

“There are many volunteers, community groups and friends groups that undertake work on shire-managed land and residents wishing to undertake voluntary maintenance work on shire-managed land are encouraged to contact the shire.”

Mr Cowley said the shire would conduct works maintain the designated signed access track to the Fossil Beach Leash Free Area “to retain the significance and biodiversity the vegetation provides in the coastal area and balance this with pedestrian access for the community”.

Mr Ritchie originally wrote to the council to suggest “a small improvement” to make the beach area safer, even offering to help raise the required funds. He said that on many occasions he had seen beach visitors, including families with prams, struggle over the dangerous, uneven rocky foreshore, and suggested placing a number of concrete slabs over the surface to provide safe access to the water.

“Many children visit the beach with their parents and also encounter dangerous conditions when trying to play in the water and near the water,” he wrote.

“Given the limited number of leash free areas with bay access, I believe a small improvement can be made to this area that will make it safer for all concerned.

“Using five prefabricated concrete slabs of either 1-2 metres in width and a length of 4 metres, the distance from the base of the dirt track onto the beach to the edge of the water at a very low tide can be covered by a concrete path.”

He said that while he had not calculated the cost of such works, he would be “happy to do so, if the project was given some consideration”.

“I would also look at fundraising if the council was not able to completely fund the project.

“I am unsure if any other regulatory bodies are required to give their approval to the project and I am sure you can advise if there are.”

But his suggestions were rejected in no uncertain terms, with an emailed reply informing him “the shire cannot support your request”.

“With relation to your request for the paving of foreshore rocks, I can advise that such a development is not supported by the VCS as it is not regarded as suitable development in the context of the environmental sensitivity of the coast.

“Nor is such a proposal supported by the State Planning Policy Framework whose premier principle is ‘to provide for the protection of significant environmental and cultural values’.

“On this basis, the Shire cannot support your request for paving on the foreshore rocks at Fossil Beach Leash Free Area.”

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