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Views versus ‘vibe’

By Mark Beale

AIRLIE Beach has its very own Darryl Kerrigan – his name is Jason Ford.

Just like the protagonist from the hit Aussie film “The Castle”, Mr Ford is an ordinary family man, with a partner he loves and kids he’s striving to support.

Also like Mr Kerrigan, Mr Ford could be in for the fight of his life in a legal case that’s never been tested by the courts.

Mr Ford has invested six months of his time and $270,000 of his hard-earned cash into an aqua park for Airlie Beach, due to open last week.

But on Thursday morning, just 24 hours before his first customers would have made a splash, Mr Ford and his employees had to pack up and go home.

Mr Ford has all the necessary Council approvals to run the inflatable wonderland from a spot off Port of Airlie’s Boathaven Beach, but it’s the nearby landholders he says have complained about issues such as noise and loss of amenity or views.

“On the one hand I’ve got Council saying ‘you’re right to go Jason’ and on the other hand I’ve got the landholders saying they should have been consulted and the manner in which the licence was granted was unlawful,” he said.

Mr Ford’s predicament has been further complicated by the fact that Boathaven Beach is reclaimed land – opened to the public in 2011 and handed over to Council’s control about two years later.

“So this case has never been tested before in Queensland,” he explained last week.

On Friday afternoon, Whitsunday Regional Council issued a statement expressing disappointment about Mr Ford’s situation due to the threat of legal action “from a small number of residents”. Council’s Director of Planning and Community, Dan Staley said to assert this activity was “development” and should be assessed as such was “fanciful”.

The statement also confirmed Council had now received legal correspondence from the residents concerned.

It said Council would defend any action taken in respect to the approval process of the Airlie Aqua Park.

Initially cautious, though devastated by the uncertainty facing both himself and his 11 staff, Mr Ford made the hard decision not to open last week, pending legal advice.

Buoyed by community support however, he has now changed his mind and will open today despite the fact that the prospect of ending up in court is very real.

If it goes all the way, the case could be heard in the Planning and Environment Court, which Mr Ford says means “everybody loses buckets of money – me, the landholders and Council”.

“It’s a lot like ‘The Castle’,” he said.

“I’m not trying to throw stones at these rich people, but it’s a shame it can’t be heard without someone taking someone else to court.

“And it’s a matter of opinion that in Australia you can’t own a view.”

A Port of Airlie Beacons resident who did not wish to be named, declined to elaborate on the exact concerns of the landholders involved, but did say “we’re in the process of consulting our legal advisors”.

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