Beaches a battleground for fees and charges

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Pot of gold?: Beach boxes are one of the few examples of where the lease of public land can be seen as a way of making money.

SOME of the Mornington Peninsula most idyllic beaches have become an unlikely battleground between beach box owners and shire councillors.

The councillors want to increase annual licence fees for beach boxes, while their owners say the increases are too steep and they should also not be billed for waste charges.

The mayor Cr David Gill says the beach box owners should understand their occupation of publicly owned land is a privilege that also gives them a chance to make “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.

“Beach boxes are luxury items,” he said.

Without any mention of past values, size and condition of beach boxes, internet-listed sales from October 2018 to March 2019 show big variations between beaches: $342,000 at Mt Martha South; $138,000 Tootgarook; $73,000 and $64,000 Hawker; and $150,000 and $144,000 Mt Eliza.

Still on the market last week were beach boxes ranging from a high of $380,000 at Dromana to the lowest, $85,000 at Rosebud. In between those figures are beach boxes at Mills Beach, Mornington, Mt Eliza and McCrae.

A showdown between councillors over the licence fees is expected at council’s budget meeting next Tuesday, 11 June.

“The peninsula has 164,000 people, 192 kilometres of coastline and just 1350 beach boxes where people are given exclusive use of that space,” Cr Gill told The News.

Last year, beach box owners paid $445 for their annual licence. This year, council’s budget proposes introducing a sliding scale based on size, with the smaller beach boxes paying $700 for a licence, mid-sized boxes $900 and larger ones $1200.

“We need income, so we’re looking into every possibility of where to get it,” Cr Gill said.

“Most ratepayers don’t have a bathing box, but those that do have exclusive, private use of a public space.

“This is a licence that can be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but owners don’t want market value used for calculating their licence fees.”

Cr Gill suggested the shire consider “selling the right to sell a licence on the open market”.

“If we went to an open market we could get more [income] than through annual licence fees,” he said.

“These beach boxes are a sought after feature of the peninsula. They’re seen as iconic, but the space they’re built on is public space and we need to have a return.”

When the draft budget was released for public comment earlier this year Mornington Peninsula Beach Box Association president Chris Maine suggested the shire could licence two or three “unused sites” each year instead of charging waste fees.

He said council had raised $306,000 in waste fees from 1300 beach box owners in 2018-19, which could have been avoided by adding $3 to the shire’s 101,000 rateable properties.

Mr Maine said 93 per cent of beach box licence holders paid waste charges already, as they also owned residences in the shire.

Councillors did not take his suggestion into account when framing the draft budget and the Supreme Court is now most likely to make a decision on the waste fees issue.

Cr Gill said $50,000 was included in last year’s budget to do a survey of asbestos on beaches.

“The asbestos is being removed from beach boxes, but where do we find it? On the beach,” he said.

“We have competing principles here, do we look after the foreshore for everybody or help with luxury items that can be sold for hundreds of thousands?

“I don’t want to get rid of them, just derive a reasonable income from them.”

First published in the Mornington News – 4 June 2019

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