EAGER foreshore campers got a shock last week when Mornington Peninsula Shire pulled the pin on this year’s holidays.
The shire emailed those with bookings at its Rosebud, Rye and Sorrento campgrounds on Wednesday night (4 November) notifying them of its decision to postpone camping until February.
The 1136 campsites were expected to be available from the last weekend of October, in time for the Melbourne Cup weekend, until April. But a council risk assessment concluded it could not safely go ahead.
Mornington Peninsula Shire CEO John Baker said the postponement was the “right decision with restrictions still in place for the foreseeable future”.
“We concluded this was the most prudent approach after careful consideration of the state government’s coronavirus roadmap and to ensure the health and safety of all Victorians,” he said.
The decision could cost the shire up to $3 million in lost fees.
Foreshore camp grounds run by volunteer management committees at Dromana, Capel Sound and White Cliffs-Camerons Bight, are not affected by the shire’s decision and their websites indicate they will be open 19 December to 25 April.
The shire’s property and strategy manager Nathan Kearsley said to committees had been told about the shire’s decision but “they are [still to] determine what their approach will be”.
The high transmission risk of campers using shared toilet and amenity blocks was a big factor behind the shire’s decision. On Friday, the closure remained despite the state government hinting the shire should reconsider due to a possible relaxation of restrictions in the light of zero COVID infections over the week.
“Even as we hopefully move from Step 3 into the last step of the Roadmap and then COVID normal, social distancing, density quotients, group sizes and a range of other measures will still be required,” Mr Baker said.
“It’s not feasible to have foreshore camping under many of these conditions.
“This approach is consistent with the Chief Health Officer’s advice which has underpinned our decision.”
Mr Baker said vacant camp sites could be used by the public for picnics and other outdoor activities.
“These spaces can also be used by beachgoers as overflow spaces to maintain social distancing requirements when beaches are busy,” he said.
The camp grounds and the amenity blocks were closed in March and campers were given two weeks to remove their tents and equipment. They received pro-rata refunds for unused portions of their stay.
Rosebud campground has 812 spaces, Rye 174 and Sorrento 150.
Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism Board chair Tracey Cooper said the postponement was “devastating” for traders who relied on the campers for a “huge part of their summer trade”.
“They are naturally really disappointed, but it is 2020,” she said.
Ms Cooper, who spoke with Mr Baker on Thursday morning, said the council was in the unenviable position of having to balance the provision of safe and virus-free campgrounds with the expectations of campers.
“I’m not sure what [else] they can do,” she said. “The decision is always the council officers’ … it is part of the council plan to be COVID safe and to manage risk.”
She said Sunday night’s expected announcement of a relaxation of restrictions was the only shining light. “If the state government relaxes the rules around density perhaps we could ask the council to reconsider.
“Part of the problem the council has is that they just don’t know what’s going to happen and they don’t want to undo all the good work.
“The call has been made, but maybe in the next couple of weeks things will turn around and we could see the camp grounds reopen in, say, January and that would save a month.”