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Finding a solution for Airlie Aqua Park

By Mark Beale

WHITSUNDAY children have just one more week to play at the Airlie Aqua Park off Boathaven Beach.

The inflatable wonderland is closing at the end of trading on October 31 – but there’s a twist – Jason Ford has a chance to relocate it to a potentially better spot.

The Airlie Aqua Park owner has been at the centre of a legal battle since before the facility opened in July.

Despite having all the necessary Council approvals to run from Boathaven for a six-month trial, land owners at The Beacons launched legal action saying they hadn’t been given the right to object and citing loss of amenity and views.

By the end of July Mr Ford had been summoned to the Planning and Environment Court and the battle for “the vibe” began.

Mr Ford, who quickly became Airlie’s answer to Darryl Kerrigan from the classic Australian film The Castle, said at the time, “in Australia you can’t own a view”.

Fast forward to today and as in The Castle, Mr Ford’s is a story that’s now potentially on its way to a happy ending.

Just as the character Lawrence Hammill came to the Kerrigan family’s rescue in the film, the Whitsunday Ratepayers Association have come to the rescue of the Airlie Aqua Park.

WRA secretary Tony Moscato said the association was initially approached by land holders at The Beacons, who put together a presentation outlining their position.

As land holder Jenny Hounsell explained: “we were just looking for an amicable solution for everybody”.

WRA committee member John Hill then went to visit Mr Ford, who in addition to worrying about court proceedings was struggling with Boathaven’s tides and considering taking his tourist attraction south.

“I basically told them (the WRA) I would be closing up and the loss wouldn’t be mine – I’d already started down avenues to relocate but this is the place I moved to 13 years ago to start a family – and I didn’t want to leave,” he said.

Feeling the Aqua Park was too good an asset to lose, the WRA organised a meeting between the parties in dispute and came up with a solution for an alternative site.

Their plan is to relocate the facility to the mouth of Airlie Creek and lobby Council to use “mining royalties” funds for the construction of an access pontoon that would also double as a “dinghy port” and service the community of resident and visiting yachts.

The WRA has committed to commissioning a technical study from qualified marine and structural engineers and proving that due to tidal restrictions the area off the lagoon at Airlie Creek would be a more suitable location from both safety and business trading points of view.

The result of all this was that last week Mr Ford signed a statutory declaration saying he would cease trading at Boathaven Beach on October 31 and not re-apply for a permit from that site.

The land owners withdrew their legal action and everyone declared the outcome a win.

“This just shows you what the community can do when they get together with a good heart,” WRA president David Gillman said.

Of course, the ball will soon be back in Council’s court, to approve what the WRA are proposing or not.

Mayor Jennifer Whitney said while she still believed Council had acted appropriately in issuing the permit for what was essentially classed as a temporary structure, it was good to know the spectre of legal action had disappeared.

“Obviously all legal action is a cost to our ratepayers… so any non-continuance is a good thing and we’ll look forward to the ratepayers putting a presentation to Council and seeing what sort of funding applications can be lodged,” she said.

What Mr Ford now wants is some kind of timeline – both for his family and the community of Airlie Beach, citing figures such as the Aqua Park’s 6000 customers in its first 10 days of operation alone.

“With TripAdvisor people are changing their holiday plans and coming to Airlie Beach,” he said.

“No-one’s throwing stones at anyone – as long as whatever happens we end up with a good result for the town.”

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