Fence no barrier to The Pillars

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Picture: Gary Sissons

THE “temporary” fence designed to block access to The Pillars cliff jumping site at Mt Martha has effectively divided the community.

Dubbed an eyesore and ineffective, the fence also sits on a narrow track that could be used by pedestrians along the Esplanade between Deakin Drive and Marguerita Avenue.

Hot days still draw a crowd to the cliff top, with many either scrambling over the fence or forcing their way along the inside until they reach the track towards the water.

The number of boats and jet skis anchored within the 200 metre no go zone declared by Mornington Peninsula Shire has increased since the fence was erected.

There are no penalties for going past the fence, jumping off the cliff or having a water craft within 200 metres of the cliffs. However, fines can be applied for drinking alcohol at The Pillars or in nearby streets.

These rules apply to both residents and visitors.

While police booked more than 50 motorists for illegal parking on roads near The Pillars in the week after the New Year, they have drawn the line at climbing over the fence.

Sergeant Daniel Patten, of Mornington police, said there had been “plenty of activity” on roads near the cliff-jumping spot – but no instances of police chasing young people over the temporary fence or preventing them jumping into the water.

“The fence is just a barrier to what is still a public place,” he said. “It just discourages young people from going there.”

Sergeant Patten said police would monitor safety issues at the site as “these are our number one priority”.

He said there had been “no other issues there and no rescues”. 

The fine for parking in No Stopping areas is $80.

In December, the mayor Cr David Gill said he expected police to climb the fence to book people for drinking alcohol (“Police should climb fence to arrest drinkers – mayor” The News 18/12/18).

“Police scramble over fences and walls to arrest offenders and people expect them to do that. We are in trouble if this is an occupational health and safety issue for police.”

Cr Gill has since told a tour operator that he was “for a long time” opposed to a fence at The Pillars but wanted action by the state government and saw the fence as bringing “the issue to a head … even though it is costly and ugly”.

The tour operator described herself as “a local” and a mother of three who had been to The Pillars twice “and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people there all having fun”.

She saw the fence as an “absurd idea” that was “unsafe, most likely unlawful and absolutely a waste of $200,000 of hard-earned ratepayers’ money”.

“There has been an uproar on social media, in everyday conversations with other locals and among other tour operators about this ugly and unsafe wall,” the women stated in an email to Cr Gill.

“The council should embrace this tourist attraction and make it safer, cleaner and perhaps spend the money on the occasional ‘friendly patrol’, the tour operator said.

“You really need to remove the wall and listen to the majority of people you represent, not just a handful of complaints.”

In reply, Cr Gill said he had “no doubt” The Pillars was not a suitable tourist destination.

JET skis have become a popular and convenient way of accessing The Pillars. Picture: Gary Sissons

“A dangerous road, no facilities, no space possible for parking, drinking and jumping from a height with rocks in the water below,” he said.

“It is quite unbelievable that anyone wants this to be a destination which may cost several million dollars to provide toilets, boardwalks, erosion control, supervision and traffic measures and would still be unsuitable and dangerous.

“I represent the whole community and never just a handful of complaints. I also try to represent common sense.”

Cr Gill warned that if the state government “does not take further action to close the site l will suggest again that council hand land management control and the financial/legal risk to government not ratepayers”.

First published in the Mornington News – 8 January 2019

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