Rock stats don't add up

'The council refuses to acknowledge that the proposal on which they based their decision contains a number of errors of fact and misleading statements'

Kylie Kitchen

Figures used in part to justify the Hanging Rock Development Plan have misled the public into believing visitation at the Rock has declined.

Macedon Ranges Council's economic development and tourism unit's report to council last August, lists "a decline in visitation over the past 20 years", as one of the challenges which has led to the development conclusion.

But visitation has in fact increased in the past 20 years.

Overall visitation was 72,925 in 1993/94, compared to 146,142 in 2012/13.

Of course, that figure has jumped significantly in the past three years, due to the Frontier concerts.

Although council has never qualified the statement, which has also been used in public information bulletins, the mayor, Cr Roger Jukes, said the reporting officers were simply referring to the general visitation.

In 1993/94, general visitation was 62,878, compared to 2012/13 which was 71,074 - an increase of more that 8,000.

The figure continued to fluctuate until 2003/04, when it came to 51,411.

In that 10-year period, up to today, that number has only risen. General visitation is 23,500 above what it was 10 years ago.

Cr Jukes and the economic development and tourism unit are likely referring to the visitation figure 21 years ago, in 1992/93, which was 74,974 - almost 4,000 more than today. It is unknown why the number was so high 20 years ago, but in the following year visitation dropped by 12,000.

"The main issue is not whether visitation is declining or increasing: it is that council cannot depend upon visitation or event/concert attendance as a primary source of income, as these are inconsistent and vary from year to year," Cr Jukes said.

"The income generated from these activities is insufficient, and cannot be relied upon, to meet the ongoing costs of maintaining the reserve, including weed and pest management, regeneration of native vegetation and maintenance of ageing infrastructure."

Those closest to the Hanging Rock debate have accused council of misleading the public.

Among them is Hanging Rock Action Group member and Newham resident, Hilary Roberts, who has raised the matter with council.

"The council refuses to acknowledge that the proposal on which they based their decision contains a number of errors of fact and misleading statements," he said.

"Surely councillors and the community are entitled to be told directly that a gross error regarding visitation trends was present in the documents presented to councillors for decision making.Why doesn't council publish a correction as per their stated policy?"

Mr Roberts, who has a background in finance and general management, compared the data to demonstrate his point.

"The council data shows that over the 20-year period - 1993/94 - 2012/13 - visitations have an increase of 0.7 per cent average per annum, not a decline of 1.2 per cent as stated in the Hanging Rock Development and Investment Proposal presented to council on 28 August, 2013," he said.

"Over the last 10 years, casual visitation has increased by 22 per cent. Casual visitors dropped abruptly in 2000/01, fluctuated over the next three years, but numbers have been steadily rising since then."

Last week Hanging Rock Action Group launched an 'action week' calling on people to let council know their concerns about the development plans.

The group aims to convince council to consult with the community before plans are further developed.

Cr Jukes said council is currently preparing a summary of the Hanging Rock Development and Investment Plan, to give the public information on the aims, background information and where council is up to with the project.