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Rising tide of anger against beach box revamp

The looming revamp has sparked a furious reaction from beach box owners, who say the council wants to impose “draconian” and unfair rules.

Under the proposal, all licensees would have to meet all the new ownership requirements by 2025. And from July next year, transferring a licence would be allowed only if the transferee satisfied the new ownership conditions.

Beach boxes are an iconic part of Port Phillip Bay.

Beach boxes are an iconic part of Port Phillip Bay. Credit:Leigh Henningham

“Arrangements will need to be made to transfer existing licences currently held by a trust, superannuation fund or deceased estate to an eligible licensee by June 30, 2021,” the policy says.

“Failure to do so will result in the forfeiture of all licence rights as well as any improvements left on the site from July 1, 2021, without compensation.”

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The new plan is yet to be adopted by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council and may change.

The council confirmed it currently manages 823 boat sheds and bathing boxes on foreshore areas across Port Phillip, with 705 licences held in the name of individuals and the remainder held by corporations, trusts, superannuation funds or deceased estates.

It argues the proposed changes would bring the council into line with rules in other municipalities with beach boxes.

But Port Phillip Bathing Box Association president Mark Davis has written to the state government, accusing the council of breaching its powers as a committee of management.

In his letter, Mr Davis said council correspondence showed 44 per cent of boat shed and bathing box owners were not local ratepayers and he argued the new policy would effectively “evict” those owners.

The council would not confirm whether this figure was accurate.

Mr Davis told The Age the policy, if adopted, would force financial losses on owners who had bought beach boxes or boat sheds in good faith.

“The proposed 2020 boat shed and bathing box policy is poorly drafted and without consideration and workable outcomes,” he said.

The Mornington Peninsula has about 1300 boat sheds and bathing boxes but the proposed policy does not apply to those that come under volunteer committees of management.

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Mornington Peninsula mayor Sam Hearn said no decisions had been made and the proposal was still out for public consultation.

But he argued ownership arrangements of beach boxes and boat sheds needed to be updated.

“The overall principle is effective and equitable ownership of a private licence for use of a public land in the sensitive area that’s our coastline,” he said.

Cr Hearn said ownership was previously restricted to residents and ratepayers but by the mid-1990s the rules were relaxed.

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The new policy would also require owners to remove power connections from bathing boxes – with some owners over the years connecting electricity to their sheds.

Beach boxes regularly go for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the property market and, in rare instances, have even surpassed the $1 million mark.

Liz Jensen, director of real estate agency Kay & Burton Portsea, said she had sold a beach box for more than $1 million earlier this year at Fishermans Beach.

She said the market for well-kept beach boxes and boat sheds in attractive positions remained strong regardless of broader economic conditions.

Ms Jensen said bans on international travel might even encourage wealthy buyers to seek out beach boxes.

“If they can enrich their lifestyle here rather than going away then that’s what they’ll do,” she said.

Under the proposed changes owners would also have to remove graffiti within 14 days.

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