Kahlers Oasis Caravan Park owner Majella Kahler.
Kahlers Oasis Caravan Park owner Majella Kahler.

Town split over RV Friendly plan

A BATTLE is set to erupt between caravan parks, the Southern Downs Regional Council and the Campervan and Motorhomes Club of Australia (CMCA) if a report to give towns in our region RV Friendly Status is passed at next week’s general meeting.

While on the surface it appears making Warwick, Stanthorpe and other towns in the region RV Friendly would be beneficial to the region, caravan park owners in the Rose City are dead against it.

A report was presented to council at the community services committee meeting on Wednesday, all for giving our towns this status.

However what would normally be a fairly easy decision for council split our elected representatives.

Crs Jo McNally, Ross Bartley and Neil Meiklejohn voted against the recommendation to make our towns RV Friendly; however it was carried 4-3.

Cr Jo McNally said she could not, in “good conscience” vote in favour of the report, because of what she believed would be a detrimental impact to our caravan park owners.

“We would be taking away from people trying to earn a living, and they are ratepayers,” she said.

Giving a town the RV Friendly Status means that the town would be advertised to the more than 58,000 members in the CMCA.

To qualify, which Warwick and Stanthorpe would do easily, the towns need to tick a number of boxes, including having access to 24-hour medical and pharmacy services and having the provision of short-term parking (24/48/72+ hours).

Kahlers Oasis Caravan Park and Caravan Parks Association of Queensland Darling Downs division president Majella Kahler believes if our towns were given this status, caravan park owners would miss out.

“The council has made a decision without consulting the local industry,” she said.

“As operators of caravan parks we have to comply with license fees, rates, water charges, garbage, we have to pay staff and all those cleaning and maintenance costs.

“But these people will go into areas into the shire where the ratepayer has to pay for the dump point facilities and for the potable water and to clean up after them.”

CMCA general manager Richard Barwick inspected the Warwick and Stanthorpe showgrounds in November to assess their viability for holding one of the club’s national rallies in 2012/13.

Mr Barwick said they were in direct competition with Boonah and Ipswich to land the rally – which he said would directly contribute more than $2 million into the community where it was held.

However he said if Warwick and Stanthorpe were not RV Friendly towns, they would not be considered.

CMCA projects and member benefits manager Phillip Berry told the Daily News he did not know of any caravan park in Australia which had lower occupancy rates after their town became RV Friendly.

“An RV Friendly town attracts not only self-contained motorhomes but it also attracts people in caravans and a very small minority of these are self-contained, they will stay in the parks,” Mr Berry said.

“They like the idea of going to an RV Friendly town because that’s what it is, RV Friendly, they feel welcome.”

Mr Berry said making a town RV Friendly would have benefits for the entire region.

“My argument is when I’ve addressed public meetings and the caravan park owners have been there, I tell them you’re probably two, maybe five per cent of businesses in town, so why should the other 95 per cent miss out,” he said.

“They have to buy fuel, have vehicle services, buy food ... they don’t just sit in their motorhome every night and have dinner.”

Mr Berry said if the towns were made RV Friendly, a double-sided information brochure would be put into the Visitor Information Centre, which featured the contact details for every caravan park in town on the front page.

“It’s designed to put dollars into everyone’s business,” he said. “We’re not trying to hurt caravan parks, that’s for sure.”

Rose City Caravan Park owner Terry Bennett was not convinced and said the ratepayers would be funding a free trip through the Southern Downs region for motorhomes and campervans if towns in the region became RV Friendly.

“The bottom line is ‘RV Friendly’ means ‘subsidised by local ratepayers’,” Mr Bennett said.

“Council would basically be subsidising the holidays for people who are non-shire residents. While they suggest a lot of money would be brought into the town the experience of the Caravan Park Association of Queensland is that doesn’t happen.

“They spend little, free camp and want to be provided with free dump points. It’s a falsehood to suggest that every time they come into town they will spend money.”

Killarney View Caravan Park owner Trudy Grant, who with her husband Gary just renovated the caravan park, was also not convinced becoming RV Friendly would be the best thing for the region.

“I’m a bit amazed, we’re in a society now of user pays and yet the council is wanting the everyday ratepayer to fund these people’s holidays,” she said.

“These guys are wanting freebies, and who’s going to pay for it, the ratepayers.”

The report to council said the townships of Allora, Killarney, Leyburn, Maryvale, Stanthorpe, Warwick and Wallangarra would all be eligible to become RV Friendly locations. Texas is already an RV Friendly town.

At the community services committee meeting on Wednesday Mayor Ron Bellingham said he was in favour of the idea of becoming RV Friendly.

“I think this is a good path to go down and I support the recommendation,” he said.

“I think it’s quite appropriate for us to go down this path and I think the opportunity is of benefit to the broader community.”

Cr Denise Ingram said while she liked the idea of becoming RV Friendly, she did not want caravan park owners to miss out.

“I know it’s good to have some of this in town but my concern is for the caravan park operators in the whole area,” she told the meeting.

“I have no problem with being RV Friendly but they must stay in caravan parks.”

Cr Cameron Gow said he believed the potential wider economic benefits to the region were worth it.

“Personally I think people should be allowed to stop and camp wherever they want for a limited amount of time,” he said.

“I don’t want to create a monopoly for our caravan parks ... in replying to this group I would also provide a list of our parks.

“There’s an economic spin-off and benefit to this region by welcoming these people to this region.”

Cr Vic Pennisi moved in line with the recommendation, which Cr Gow seconded.

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