THIRTY-five years after first being mooted, and after countless effort by volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, the plan for a sound shell on the Western Port foreshore has officially been killed off.
The proposal was left off the Hastings Foreshore Masterplan last year, and the Mornington Peninsula Shire has confirmed it will not go ahead.
One of the long-term proponents of the project and a member of the Western Port Soundshell Committee, Brian Stahl OAM, has expressed his disappointment and dismay at the outcome.
“Those involved in the project are at a loss that after so many years, so much effort, and so much money expended on various consultancy, studies and geo-technical reports, it has been cancelled,” said Mr Stahl.
“I think that I have learned through the years, having been involved in numerous community projects, that you need the support of council officers to get these things through. In the end, that support just wasn’t there.”
The cancellation was despite a 2020 geo-technical report commissioned by the Shire giving “in principle” support for the project. The report stated, “constraints identified were all assessed as low impact and therefore can be addressed using standard engineering methods”.
The report appeared to be a final hurdle for the committee pursuing the foreshore sound shell. Soon after, assurance was given by former councillor, Kate Roper, that the project would be included in the 2021/22 shire budget.
Money was not forthcoming in that or subsequent budgets.
“While it’s true that from an engineering perspective the sound shell was found to be low risk, there were many other factors that did not allow the proposal to proceed in the way it was originally envisioned,” said Mornington Peninsula mayor Cr Steve Holland.
“Hastings Foreshore is coastal Crown land owned by the state government, and the shire is the appointed land manager. Any development requires state government consent. Unfortunately, our plans for a sound shell were not supported by the state government due to the risk of flooding from storms and rising sea levels, among other things.”
“We know how much our community wants a performance space on the Hastings foreshore and have ensured the recently-adopted Hastings Foreshore Masterplan includes a large open area set aside for events such as concerts, markets and community festivals.”
“We are continuing with the design of the Flexible Events Area, which will be a fantastic community asset and provide maximum community benefit within the constraints associated with a coastal landfill site. In the meantime, council is advocating strongly for state government funding for a performing arts centre in Hastings, which will elevate the Western Port region as a major arts and culture destination.”
Mr Stahl believes the biggest disappointment will be felt by community members, as it always was a community run and funded initiative.
“I want to acknowledge the incredible work by all those that kept this dream alive through state commissioners, shire amalgamations, and the continuous changing of the tides in local government,” said Mr Stahl.
“It is a testament to true community spirit. From the inception of the idea in 1988, to the first public meeting in 1994, right until this day, those who pushed and fought and persevered should be recognised.”
The first public meeting was attended by 24 Community Groups supported by a petition to the former Shire of Hastings signed by 750 residents.
Then at the 1994 Hastings Day Festival public donations were collected added to by a donation of $5000 from Esso/BHP and $1000 from the Rotary Club of Hastings raising an amount of $11,000.
That amount was invested and had grown to $20000 when in 2015 the W/Port Soundshell Promotion Committee agreed to have a re-costing of the original approved plans and contacted Dennis Payne of Payne Pattenden Architects Pty Ltd to carry that out.
An amount of $9000 was expended on an updated costing and comprehensive feasibility study by Dyson-Holland Quantity Surveyors to support a submission to the shire’s 2015/16 annual budget which was successful in gaining renewed council support for the project to continue.
Since then the remaining funds in the trust account invested at the Bendigo Bank Hastings Branch has grown to $13,838.94.
“The money in the trust account came from the local community, and we feel it belongs to the local community,” said Mr Stahl.
“We are now looking for a way to return this money in a meaningful way”.
Ideas put forward by the committee favour using it to benefit young musicians in the community. Perhaps by establishing a bursary or scholarship fund to help them pursue their musical endeavors.
“The money was initially donated to eventually benefit local musicians through the sound shell, so we think it is an appropriate way to disperse the funds,” said Mr Stahl.
The group is seeking community feedback on the disbursement of the funds and is asking that any suggestions be emailed to Mr Stahl on firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published in the Western Port News – 26th July 2023