A MOUNT BARKER couple’s battle to curb the town’s free overnight motorhome stop in a bid to protect their caravan park business has now been considered by State Parliament.
On April 4, Shadow Tourism Minister Libby Mettam went in to bat for Steve and Shirley Smith who have owned the town’s caravan park for the past 11 years.
“Mt Barker caravan park has substantial support from the business community but the Smiths feel that their concerns about health and safety at the Shire site are unheeded and that they are suffering financially due to the Shire’s actions”, Ms Mettam told the Legislative Assembly.
“The Smiths support recreational vehicle–friendly camping as long as it does not include the Shire providing free sites.
“Shirley and Steve Smith have invested heavily in this caravan park and in the people they have employed.”
Ms Mettam said the issue of competition from free council-run facilities was not isolated to Mt Barker, but occurred elsewhere including Geraldton.
“Local governments are, in some cases, competing with small businesses, specifically in the tourism sector,” she said.
“Concerns have been raised regarding free camping sites that are in close proximity to operational or commercial caravan parks.
“The caravan industry is a $19 billion industry across Australia; it is of great value.”
Ms Mettam said the Smiths’ business was small and employed “a number of staff, pays council rates and complies with all of the health and safety regulations, but the local government is competing against it”.
She said the caravan park provided camping sites, powered sites, a dump point, showers, toilets, and was “well supported”.
She acknowledged the free Shire site provided “a lot of benefits”.
“We know that even though those free campers are not investing in a caravan park, they are certainly spending money in town and supporting other small businesses in that area,” she added.
“But we are seeing free camp sites supported and invested in by local governments, paid for by ratepayers, and competing directly with small businesses that have been operating in the vicinity for some time.”
While appreciating Ms Mettam’s help in raising the profile of his concerns, Mr Smith told The Voice of the South that people staying at Mt Barker’s free site did not spend much money locally.
“The Shire allows RVs and fully self-contained caravans to stay down there, but the level of containment that the Shire puts on it is a very low standard,” he said.
“Basically, if they’ve got a toilet, they’re okay.
“They don’t need a shower; they just need to contain their grey water and their black water.”
He said that many overnight occupants of the Shire park, located beside the Plantagenet District Hall on Memorial Drive, were not containing their water, and some used adjacent bushes as a toilet.
Plantagenet Shire President Chris Pavlovich said Shire rangers had not seen much evidence of bush-based ablutions.
Cr Pavlovich said that if there were no free site in Mount Barker, the town could lose valuable business from travellers who might move on to another town with free facilities.