BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort owner operator Greg McKinnon is one of several caravan park owners who signed a letter to the council urging them to justify the free RV park in Proserpine. Picture: Laura Thomas
BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort owner operator Greg McKinnon is one of several caravan park owners who signed a letter to the council urging them to justify the free RV park in Proserpine. Picture: Laura Thomas

Owners argue free RV park creates ‘unfair playing field’

CARAVAN park owners have questioned the council over whether it's fair to run a free RV park when other businesses across the region are struggling with occupancy numbers.

A proposal to extend the tenancy agreement for the Proserpine RV Park was put before the council on Wednesday.

The park, which opened last year, provides free camping for visitors for up to 48 hours.

However, a collective of commercial caravan parks in Airlie Beach penned a letter asking for clarification on insurance, COVID compliance, financial feasibility and environmental implications with hopes it would be read to councillors before a decision on the lease extension was made.

The letter was not read out yesterday as it could not be found, however Mayor Andrew Willcox assured councillors and the public that it would be followed up.

BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort owner operator Greg McKinnon said he, along with several other owners, held concerns the free park was undermining other accommodation options in the region.

"The whole thing is not a fair playing field," he said.

"Tell the council to buy a motel as well and offer free night's accommodation in a motel.

"It's a similar concept, so why is it different for a caravan?

"It's not fair."

Greg McKinnon with staff Joy Williams, Bee Muangsiri, Gail McAulay and Oi Kathagen. Mr McKinnon says the free RV park threatens local jobs and businesses. Picture: Laura Thomas
Greg McKinnon with staff Joy Williams, Bee Muangsiri, Gail McAulay and Oi Kathagen. Mr McKinnon says the free RV park threatens local jobs and businesses. Picture: Laura Thomas

Mr McKinnon said his park alone drew 135,000 people to the region last year, and the letter from owners indicated the industry contributed more than $9 million to the economy.

"We support everything the town offers, we support jobs, we support businesses in Proserpine and Airlie Beach, we support the growth of our township," Mr McKinnon said.

"Let's work together otherwise you're going to have this freebie that sucks the life out of the town and gives nothing and then we lose jobs for our kids, we lose businesses for our future and then we go backwards."

From June 1 to August 31, 2020, 1691 vehicles used the free park, averaging 18 vehicles a night.

The tenancy agreement costs the council $25,000 for one year with annual operating and maintenance costs for the park, based on eight months of operation, sitting at about $32,455.

Mr McKinnon argued he was forced to pay for something through his taxes that had a direct negative effect on his business.

However, when the tenancy agreement was debated at Wednesday's council meeting, Division 3 councillor John Collins argued that people staying in these parks would not pay for camping elsewhere.

"The people that use the RV park are people that specially use the free RV stops," he said.

"If they're not going to stop here, they're going to go to Bloomsbury or Collinsville or Home Hill.

Whitsunday Regional Council Deputy Mayor and Division 3 councillor John Collins argued some visitors would not stop in Proserpine if there wasn’t a free RV park. Picture: Jordan Gilliland
Whitsunday Regional Council Deputy Mayor and Division 3 councillor John Collins argued some visitors would not stop in Proserpine if there wasn’t a free RV park. Picture: Jordan Gilliland

"They would not stop in Proserpine if there was no free RV park.

"Not a lot of them are great spenders but they're walking the streets of Proserpine and going to the paper shop, the chemist, they're getting their fuel and buying their groceries, so even if there's only three or four using it of a night-time, it's a great thing for Proserpine.

Mr McKinnon disagreed, saying people expected to pay for a place to stay in a tourist town and that there were cheaper options for budget travellers that still supported the local economy.

Division 1 councillor Jan Clifford moved a procedural motion to have the decision put on hold until the letter was read to the councillors.

However, the motion was lost five votes to two with Division 2 councillor Al Grundy and Cr Clifford outnumbered.

Councillors then voted unanimously to extend the lease of the Proserpine RV Park for another year.

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Despite the extension, Mr McKinnon said several owners would continue to push for a response to their letter from the council.

Among them was Island Gateway Caravan Park owner Rod Neville who echoed Mr McKinnon's concerns.

"The cost of running these parks is about 80 per cent of turnover and so all of that money is going back into the economy," he said.

"Here's the council costing themselves 50 per cent of their normal revenue by giving away a service that they otherwise should be charging for with total disregard to what impact it's going to be having on us."

Whitsunday Regional Council customer experience director Adam Hagy, Cr John Collins, Cr Jan Clifford, Mayor Andrew Willcox and former Cr Ron Petterson at the opening of the new RV Park in Proserpine last year. Picture: File
Whitsunday Regional Council customer experience director Adam Hagy, Cr John Collins, Cr Jan Clifford, Mayor Andrew Willcox and former Cr Ron Petterson at the opening of the new RV Park in Proserpine last year. Picture: File

Other concerns held by caravan park owners included COVID compliance and the letter to the council asked for clarification on the current safety plan in place at the free park.

Last month, the council's community services director Julie Wright said officers visted the Proserpine RV Park every day and recorded registration details of vehicles.

A "second approach" was introduced in August where visitors are asked to fill out a form asking for contact details and information on previous travel, however it is not compulsory.

The letter will likely be read out at the next council meeting on September 23.


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