Building a fence for summer at The Pillars

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MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire is poised to start fencing off access to The Pillars cliff jumping site of the Esplanade, Mt Martha.

The 450 metre wire mesh fence will run parallel to the road between Deakin Drive and Marguerita Avenue.

Classified as a temporary fence, the $200,000 structure has been given the go ahead by VicRoads.

Last year the shire failed to get backing for the fence from either the state government of Aboriginal Victoria.

This year the shire sought indemnity from the state government after receiving advice that it could be liable for anyone injured or killed while visiting the popular spot but by last week’s meeting was yet to receive an answer.

“We have a duty of care to ensure public safety,” the mayor Cr David Gill said in a news release under the headline “Mornington Peninsula Shire Council Closing Deadly Cliff Jumping Site at Mount Martha”.

The news release went on to state that an “increasing number of young people risk death or serious spinal injury by cliff jumping” from the “highly dangerous cliff site”.

“The consumption of alcohol at The Pillars is [also] a major factor related to reported anti-social and offensive behaviour despite [the shire’s] alcohol ban which cannot be enforced,” Cr Gill said.

The shire has also declared a 200 metre exclusion zone for boats and water craft out from the cliff face, although it has admitted there are no resources to police its ban.

There are no plans to stop anglers, divers or sightseers accessing the rest of the cliff which stretches for about eight kilometres  along the Esplanade from Mt Martha in the north to Safety Beach in the south.

“Litter, broken glass, vandalism to private property, urinating and defecating in local streets, swearing, fighting and aggressive behaviour have all been reported by residents. These occur both in the surrounding streets and at The Pillars,” Cr Gill said.

He said it was important the fence was in place for summer.

“A more permanent aesthetic fence that would blend into the environment is the longer-term solution and would also allow for the revegetation of The Pillars environment,” he said.

“Currently, The Pillars operates as a de facto major tourism operation in a residential zone that does not conform with any Victorian government planning, environment, health, pollution or public safety legislation.”

“Over the past three years through social media, the problems at The Pillars have increased dramatically.

“This site has never been set up to support a high level of visitation and, basically, the Victorian government, Parks Victoria and the local community have lost control of the situation as a public safety, law and order issue.

“The site, by its very nature, is a major difficulty to both police and also to ensure public safety which is the major reason for restricting access to The Pillars.”

Cr Gill said on receiving legal advice on the major liability faced by the council and ratepayers if someone was killed or injured on the site, the council voted to close The Pillars on safety, legal and law and order issues and notified the government of its intentions.

Cr Gill said the depth of the water at The Pillars “varies, with submerged rocks in some areas”.

“Combined with varying tides – which visitors are not necessarily aware of – and boats and jet skis in the water, jumping from these cliffs carries a high-risk of injury.”

Cr Gill said visitors to The Pillars were causing erosion and making the cliff edge unstable and slippery.

Vegetation, the remains of Aboriginal middens and other significant cultural heritage assets were also being trampled.

Vehicles parked on both sides of nearby residential streets were causing access problems in a designated bushfire prone area.

“Access for emergency vehicles, particularly fire trucks, is a key concern for residents and emergency response services,” Cr Gill said.

“Residents frequently find litter on the nature strips and in their gardens. Rubbish bins are currently not provided at The Pillars and public rubbish bins are not provided in the neighbouring streets.

First published in the Mornington News – 4 December 2018

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