Talbot Caravan Park is situated on the Talbot Recreation Reserve, 34 Avoca Road, Talbot, the majority of which is Crown Land reserved for Public Park and Recreation. Central Goldfields Shire Council is the appointed land manager while Talbot Football Netball Club (TFNC) operates the caravan park.
The reserve contains football clubrooms and pavilion, an indoor sports stadium, netball courts and related outbuildings along with the caravan park and a cardboard recycling business.
TFNC is a ‘tenant’ of Council but does not have a current occupancy agreement for use of the Crown Land and does not pay Council rent to occupy the reserve.
It is understood the caravan park was developed by the TFNC to provide a revenue source for the club and has been registered with Council under the Residential Tenancies Act. The caravan park has 11 “permanent tenants” who pay the TFNC a site fee of $60 per week. There are additional casual visitors, but the numbers are low due to the capacity of the site and capacity of the operator to manage additional visitors. The caravan park has been an important revenue generator for the TFNC over the past three decades, with current site fees generating more than $30,000 per annum.
The caravan park is not compliant with the Residential Tenancies (Caravan Parks and Moveable Dwellings Registration and Standards) Regulations and is therefore not safe for either permanent residents or casual visitors.
On 1 March 2017, the Country Fire Authority issued a Fire Safety Report detailing the upgrades required to make the Talbot Caravan Park compliant. These upgrades included provision of appropriate access for firefighting vehicles, firefighting equipment, provision of the required volume of water to support firefighting, upgrade of electrical safety, creation of an emergency management plan and tree trimming.
Council provided the TFNC with this report and a notice to rectify the deficiencies. TFNC failed to make any significant progress on addressing the improvements required and in December 2018 Council was faced with the dilemma of either re-registering a non-compliant caravan park or making 11 households homeless on the eve of Christmas. Council re-registered the park until December 31, 2020 on the condition that the TFNC undertake the required improvements within a clearly stated timeframe.
A Council inspection of the caravan park on 23 May 2019 found that of the 10 required improvements, the TFNC had completed only one satisfactorily. Eight others had not been started.
To overcome the safety issues at Talbot Caravan Park, Council has two options:
- Close the park, or
- Invest in the caravan park to bring it to a compliant standard.
Council understands that closure of the park is not an ideal outcome for the town as it would require the 11 permanent residents to find other suitable accommodation; remove a key revenue stream for the TFNC and close a much-valued community asset which has been identified as an important part of the town. However, legal advice provides clear grounds for the closure to occur.
If closure is seen as the ‘best’ option, Council would seek to oversee the closure of the park in partnership with TFNC on a voluntary basis and without recourse to formal closure processes by 31 December 2020. This would enable the re-housing of the 11 permanent residents and allow development of an alternative fundraising avenue for TFNC. Council would ensure minimum safety standards were met during this process.
Alternatively, should upgrading the caravan park be determined the best option, it would require an absolute minimum investment of $117,000. Any formal agreement regarding operation of the park may have to go through an open tender process with TFNC demonstrating its capacity to operate the caravan park. There is an option to request the Minister’s approval of direct negotiation of a lease subject to certain criteria. The tender process would add another $20k-$30k to the costs.
Camping and caravan grants of up to $200,000 are available through the Victorian State Government. The purpose of these grants is to provide affordable visitor accommodation. Eligibility for this grant program is likely to be impacted by the lack of a current occupancy agreement and that the Talbot Caravan Park is predominately a residential caravan park with limited tourism appeal.