Who will come to the foreshore of dreams?


AS GAMBLES go, building the Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre ranks with the punt of the Iowa farmer who, hearing a voice whisper “If you build it he will come”, ploughed in his corn crop and built a baseball field.

Shazam! Up popped baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson (deceased) to flesh out the plot of ‘Field of Dreams’, an American fantasy film of 1989 starring the forgettable Kevin Costner.

The “build” quote has transmogrified into “Build it and they will come”, a nice entrepreneurial spin line used to reel in the gullible.

The question: “Who will come to the SPA?” demands an answer.

In a nine-page letter to shire CEO Michael Kennedy, the Nepean Ratepayers Association (NRA) puts the question and provides startling evidence about the substantial number who have said they are not likely attendees.

The letter also examines others who won’t, or possibly can’t, patronise the SPA complex for cost and proximity reasons.

Recreational facility experts SGL Consulting (SGL) telephoned 400 people in the SPA catchment area to build a picture of the possible client base. The results were a shock:

* Only 39 per cent of the 400 currently attend aquatic centres.

* 32 per cent of these use the Shire’s aquatic facility at Pelican Park, Hastings.

* 30 per cent attend the Peninsula Swimming and Aquatic Centre in Colchester Rd, Rosebud.

The NRA letter asked:

“Please explain how these patronage interdependencies (Pelican Park and the swimming and aquatic centre) will be reflected within the detailed (and final?) business case for SPA and the future business plan for Pelican Park, with particular reference to the combined level of annual operating subsidies required, which our members realistically consider could be as much as $2 million per annum for both facilities.

* According to SGL, “The results indicate use of pools in the southern peninsula area compared to most other areas in Melbourne metropolitan area that we have surveyed is much lower than these other areas.

“The usage rate of 39 per cent is the second lowest use of pools rate we have seen in the 15 years we have been conducting such surveys.”

* 61 per cent of the 400 respondents do not currently use a pool/aquatic centre.

* Only 27 per cent cited “lack of suitable facilities near by” as being their reason for non-usage.

The NRA letter comments:

“By any prudent measure, to justify the substantial capital and operational financial commitments that the ratepayers of the Mornington Peninsula Shire will be required to underwrite, our members would have expected that the overwhelming reason that 61 per cent of the persons surveyed do not currently use an aquatic centre would be there is a ‘lack of suitable facilities nearby’!

“Surely the required percentage of prospective users wanting/needing these facilities should be in the order of 80 per cent to 85 per cent – if not higher – to justify that the delivery of SPA would clearly be satisfying an identified demand/need?”

The letter continues: “Our members have also expressed concern as to why such damning analysis and commentary by SGL, which clearly goes to the very heart of the project’s viability, was given no more than a cursory reference” in the major report to council on 9 December 2013.

“Please advise why councillors were not fully apprised of such a key concern.”

The NRA letter remarks on the fact that “many crucial aspects and findings within the SGL report were not presented – either in full or at all – in the 9 December 2013 minute to council to consider the location of the SPA project”.

It states it is “clearly evident that only positive data was ‘cherry picked’ for presentation to councillors, with contrary or negative aspects appearing to be played-down (or selectively ignored) if the issue did not suit a desired / preferred outcome”.

Turning to the water slides, which were made part of the SPA project just weeks ago, NRA asks, who will use them?

Its letter states that “SGL has been quite specific in its prior reports to the Shire that … a water slide feature was a ‘must have’ component of a contemporary aquatic centre’s offering [and this] … would appear to have been well known by Shire officers and councillors for (at least) the past two years”.

Its letter says:

“There appears to be no correlation between the patronage levels expected for the water slide attraction, as compared with estimated overall attendances” in SGL’s November 2013 report.

With unemployment in Rosebud “currently running at over 7 per cent” and youth unemployment – “clearly the ‘targeted user audience’ for the water slides” – running at over 21 per cent … is it realistic to consider that this demographic group will have the financial capacity to regularly patronise the water slides, let alone SPA itself?” the letter asks.

“The shire’s project-related documentation remains absolutely silent on how the forecast operational deficits for SPA will be serviced: let alone how the capital cost – which would now appear to be well in excess of $40 million – will be financed.”

Much reliance, it appears, will be placed on holiday makers and tourists, to lift the patronage of both the pool/water slides/gymnasium/café to viable levels. And their regular patronage will depend on prices.

No research has been published on this patron source. We seem to have no idea how many visits holidaying families make to the SPA, outings that could set them back $50 to $70 a time before the waters of Port Phillip Bay beckon.

The NRA letter takes a final swipe at the shire.

“Our members note that on nine occasions throughout the report, (land assessment group SGS Economics and Planning) advised that it had “…relied upon information or data provided by the Shire”.

The NRA letter states that “such commentary questions the true independence of the (SGS) report and its findings upon which councillors were strongly reliant upon during the deliberations of the 9 December 2013 council meeting”.


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