Bells Carpark - Surf Coast Shire Responds
Council claims record of improvements at Bells
Report by Tim Baker
The Surf Coast Shire Council has defended its management of the Bells Beach Surfing Reserve, pointing to a string of improvements it has implemented.
And, they say, yellow lines recently introduced as part of a reconfiguration of the Bells car park have been removed and parking fines issued to surfers withdrawn.
But, they say, tourist coaches will continue to visit the Bells Surfing Reserve, despite the opposition of community groups.
“Talk of a ‘major tourist hub’ is mischievous and wrong,” said Surf Coast shire mayor Cr Brian McKiterick . “Tourist coaches and mini buses visit Bells Beach now. What Council is doing is attempting to better manage and limit existing conditions. Minor changes were made to the car park, consistent with a Coastal Management Plan that had community support, to improve safety and meet current demands.”
Cr McKiterick say plans to license bus operators visiting Bells will go ahead, but denies council is supporting commercial bus operators ahead of the interests of local surfers.
“It is not a question of ‘supporting’ - rather one of finding a balance between the rights of various users and better managing the buses that presently stop at the reserve without any regulation. The Victorian Government has stated that it wants Bells to be available for tourist visitation, which provide significant benefits to Victorians.
“At present buses visiting Bells are unregulated. As now required by the Victorian Government, Council has begun a process of licensing bus operators visiting the reserve. Not to do so would mean allowing commercial operators to run an illegal business. Council sees that only issuing a few licenses and requiring large coaches to park outside the car parks will (a) provide a way to have bus operators put something back into the reserve (b) reduce the number of buses visiting the reserve and (c) encourage more buses to stop at Surf City, in Torquay itself.”
But the Bells Beach Preservation Society, made up of long-time local surfers, say the new parking arrangements at Bells have only worsened the dangers posed by large buses.
“Basically, the buses continued to park in a haphazard manner with some bus drivers disregarding the new parking configuration and associated signage. It is well recorded by us that there was chaos, as there will be every time there is surf and buses,” said Maurice Cole.
“It is my opinion that the car park is less safe than it was before the recent works and that there are significant liability risks for the land managers, should there be a traffic and/or pedestrian accident or injury(s) within the Reserve.”
Cr McKiterick responded: “The Bells Beach Preservation Society has provided Council with its traffic assessment, which engineers are now reviewing. Feedback will be provided to the BBPS in the near future.”
Because the Bells Beach Surfing Reserve is Crown Land, all plans need approval from the Victorian Minister for Environment and Climate Change.
“Council will be providing a revised Coastal Management Plan to the Minister for Environment and Climate Change for his approval by the end of April. Once this is signed off, there will be more certainty on timelines,” said Cr McKiterick.
Rather ironically, while the conflict over new parking arrangements at Bells was played out, April 7 marked the first anniversary of Bells being placed on Australia’s National Heritage Register, which should provide it with the highest level of environmental protection.
Surf Coast Shire Council has defended its record of managing the Bells Beach Surfing Reserve, pointing to a string of recent improvements, including:
- Campaigning successfully for Bells to be placed on the National Heritage Register.
- Employing a dedicated ranger at the reserve to better protect vegetation.
- Connecting toilets to a sewer main and replacing an outdated septic system.
- Revegetation work carried out in partnership with community groups, Rip Curl and Surfing Victoria.
- Combating erosion through stormwater drainage improvements.
BBPS, meanwhile, remains steadfast in its opposition to tourist buses at Bells, but has denied accusations that they are a “fringe” group or anti-tourism.
“Every community group with an interest in the Bells Beach reserve has embraced a policy of ‘no buses at Bells’. From the Torquay Boardriders, SANE, and the Surfrider Foundation to local business groups, all are unanimous that Bells must not be changed to accommodate commercial tour operators,” BBPS recently posted on its website.
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