Adjournment matter – Belfast Coastal Reserve

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, and the action I seek is for her to meet with residents in my electorate who are concerned about the plan to ban dog walking and recreational horseriding from some local beaches. Minister, as you would be aware, the Belfast Coastal Reserve draft management plan has been developed following concerns about the use of beaches for commercial horse training in the area between Warrnambool and Port Fairy known as the Belfast Coastal Reserve. The draft plan proposes sectioning the reserve into two areas: a recreation and conservation zone, and a conservation zone. Much of the coast will be included in the conservation zone, which will ban dogs and recreational horseriding in an effort to protect the hooded plover.

Last week I joined the shadow minister for environment to meet with residents who live in the area, and they are rightly concerned that their existing uses of the beaches have been completely ignored in the drafting of this plan. In fact they were not even consulted when it was drafted. These are people who use the beach every single day to walk their dogs for exercise and for their own health and wellbeing. They call themselves partners in the environment. They care for their beach and they look after it because it is their backyard. They notice if something is not right, they notice if somebody is doing the wrong thing and they report it, and they pick up the rubbish and plastic.

If the beach is locked up, who is going to perform this monitoring task? Will Parks Victoria have the resources? Will the dunes become overgrown with marram grass, weeds, feral cats and foxes, which will present more of a threat to the shorebirds than a dog on a leash or a horse being walked on the hard sand at the water’s edge away from the nesting sites? There is a real opportunity to embrace the locals and effectively work with them to ensure positive outcomes for all. If this plan is endorsed in its current format, it could have impacts across the entire state, and every member of this and the other place representing areas with coastline should be concerned.

Another anomaly in the plan is the stupidity of banning windsurfing in the area called Belfast Loch while allowing jet skis and 20-foot-long catamarans, and no-one has been able to identify any environmental challenges that these cause. It is a shame that the minister, while she was in the South-West Coast electorate recently, accompanied by a member for Western Victoria Region in the other place who has been making a big deal about this in the local media, failed to meet with these concerned residents and others who hold deep concerns about the plan. I ask that the minister meet with these concerned residents as a matter of priority.

Answer received on March 29, 2018

The draft Belfast Coastal Reserve Management Plan has been prepared to protect the environmental, cultural and social values of the reserve and provide for public safety. This draft plan responds to concerns from local groups regarding an escalation in commercial horse training and a lack of regulation around other activities in the reserve including dog walking and unauthorised off-road vehicle use.

Significant research and public consultation has been undertaken by Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) in developing the draft plan.  This has included online engagement, stakeholder and agency meetings and public consultation events.

The draft plan proposes two management zones in the reserve.  A Conservation Zone aims to protect the areas where the highest environmental values are found, and proposes to exclude large-scale racehorse training, recreational horse riding and dogs.  A Conservation and Recreation Zone aims to protect environmental and cultural values while allowing for recreation, including racehorse training, recreational horse riding and dogs.

The draft plan was released for public comment on 15 January and closed on 16 March 2018. The public comment period included an online survey, written submissions, targeted discussions with stakeholders and user groups, and open house events held at Warrnambool, Koroit and Port Fairy with an estimated 150 attending.

The nature of engagement has been robust. This is testament to the diverse concerns that have been raised including access for windsurfing in Belfast Loch and polarised views about dog access and recreational horse riding in the proposed Conservation Zone.  Parks Victoria is now carefully considering the approximately 250 submissions received and further targeted engagement is planned with key stakeholders.

If Ms Britnell is willing to provide the names of the concerned residents she recently met, I will send representatives from Parks Victoria to speak with them about their concerns on my behalf as part of the further engagement to finalise the plan.

Once the plan is submitted to me for final approval I will consider all issues raised by residents, community groups and stakeholders.

Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change

Minister for Suburban Development