Hepburn Shire Council has released its draft Aquatics Strategy for community feedback.

The strategy aims to provide a 10-year priority plan to guide the future direction for aquatics facilities in the Shire.

Implementing all of the recommendations for planning, upgrades and management in the strategy would cost $6 to $8 million, money Council does not have.

The Mayor Cr Tim Drylie said, “We know that indoor aquatic facilities are a long-term investment that cost tens of millions of dollars. We would need to attract sufficient capital funding for a new facility, along with the ability to sustain the ongoing operational costs,” said Cr Drylie.

“The draft strategy recognises there’s more work to be done in terms of detailed planning work for such a facility, including feasibility, business case and funding strategy, but we’ve certainly heard that this is an identified community need. Councillors want to be very clear and transparent about the fact that we do not have money in our current budget, nor in our Long-Term Financial Plan set aside for these recommendations, and these works will need to be prioritised with other Council expenditure,” said Cr Drylie.

The Aquatics Strategy, which cost $80,000, makes recommendations for further consultancies totalling between $240,000 and $390,000. These include reviews of management and operation, facility programming, asset management, waterplay upgrades and indoor aquatics facility planning.

Further work undertaken as part of indoor aquatics facility planning will identify the capital and operating costs associated with an indoor aquatics facility and this will need to be further considered by Council at the appropriate time. Such a facility would require significant external funding.

“It is essential that funding for aquatics facility planning be included in the 2022-2023 budget,” said a spokesperson for the Daylesford Indoor Aquatic Centre (DIAC). Otium consultants estimate costs for facility planning between $120,000 and $160,000. “DIAC has provided modelling to Council that indicates that an indoor facility is operationally viable if the capital cost is secured via grants from state and federal governments and community contributions.” Council has included lobbying state and federal government bodies for a Shire aquatics facility in its Advocacy Statement.

Council has five public aquatics facilities – outdoor pools at Daylesford, Trentham, Clunes and Creswick (Calembeen Park Toddlers Pool), and the Creswick Splash Park. Entry is free to these facilities.

These pools are currently underutilised and heavily subsidised. In the past two years, Council has spent about $450,000 per year on pool maintenance and operational costs. There have been about 22,000 entries to Shire pools each year which means that each pool entry is subsidised by about $20. On average, residents have used Shire pools 1.4 times per year. By comparison, the Kyneton Sport and Aquatic Centre averages 220,000 entries per year, has an operational deficit of $300,000 and subsidises each entry by about $1.40.

Council undertook extensive community engagement between April and August 2021 to inform the draft strategy. “In spite of the challenges of the year, including due to COVID-19, we heard from more than 1,000 Shire residents and over 50 shire-wide community organisations and schools,” said Cr Drylie. “We heard there’s a strong desire for more opportunities for learn to swim programs, hydrotherapy, aquatics programs and recreational swimming.”

The current pools do not appear to be the best use of community funds for the future.

“We know that our existing pools and facilities are underutilised. This is due to a range of factors, including ageing infrastructure, water temperature, the weather policy and access,” said Cr Drylie. “The draft Aquatics Strategy is very comprehensive and we are keen to hear what the community thinks of it,” he said.

At the end of the community engagement process, Council will have to make some difficult decisions about priorities for pools and services. Not everything the community wants will be funded. If you have a view, now is your chance to have a say about what you think Council should do.

Read the full draft strategy along with a summarised version and have your say at https://participate.hepburn.vic.gov.au/aquatics-strategy 

Comments need to be in by Friday 18 March. Council will also host pop up sessions during February and March at each township for a chance to discuss the strategy with staff. Keep an eye on Council’s Facebook page and the website for details.

If you want to have a say, here is your chance.