planning for the future: Wentworth Shire Council Director of Finance and Policy, Simon Rule, Acting Wentworth Mayor Tim Elstone and Coolibah Cabins owner, Paul Freckleton, inspect plans for a new $330,000 administration and managers/residence complex at the Willowbend Caravan Park.  Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By VINNIE RODI

THE first stage of a long-awaited upgrade to Wentworth’s Willowbend Caravan Park will commence in earnest over the coming weeks, with Coolibah Cabins securing a tender to construct a $330,000 administration and managers/residence complex at the site.

Construction of the new building is expected to be completed by the end of July, and marks the first stage of the $6.7million Willowbend Caravan Park Redevelopment and Business Plan – a 10-year-plus staged upgrade of the Wentworth Shire Council-owned site.

While Council is yet to formerly approve the Business Plan, Wentworth Shire Council Director of Finance and Policy, Simon Rule, said the plans for the $330,000 administration and managers/residence had been endorsed.

Coolibah Cabins owner, Paul Freckleton, who is overseeing the design and construction of the new complex, said that once complete it would provide “a significant upgrade to existing infrastructure.”

“One of the elements we’ve incorporated (into the building) is a lot of glass, meaning the view will be absolutely spectacular,” he said. “The whole building structure is 184m2, so it’s a fairly large office and dwelling, and is a significant upgrade to the existing infrastructure.”

Mr Freckleton said that one of the “key factors” regarding the new complex was its ability to be removed from the site within a 24-hour window in the event of a flood.

“The building is actually going to be made up of four parts, and can be pulled apart,” he said. “You can quite easily pull up a truck under each section, and drive out of here in 15 minutes.

“Where the office will be located is at a level that can handle a low to medium flood, so you’re really only talking about a major flood event that it would have to be moved.

“The whole park, and the whole master plan, has been tailored to ensure that the caravan park is flood-proof to a medium flood level, which is critical to ensure that the park can still operate while a flood is in effect.

“It’s really that one in 100-year event, like the 1956 floods, that the expense to remove the complex would come into play.”

Mr Freckleton said that he was excited to be a part of a worthwhile community project.

“From my point of view, Coolibah Cabins is really excited to be part of a project like this, because we have the experience, and know the impact a project like this has on the local community, particularly in a smaller country town,” he said.

“It really does stimulate a lot of tourists and cash flow for the town. We’ve seen that in other areas.”

The Willowbend Caravan Park has enjoyed a significant upturn in patronage in the past 15 months following Wentworth Shire Council’s decision to take ownership of the site in December 2017.

The proposed $6.7million Willowbend Caravan Park Redevelopment and Business Plan aims to develop “a commercially sustainable master plan… to guide the future operation and improvement of the park to ensure it operates in a highly competitive tourist accommodation market, maintain current patronage and improve overall occupancies by attracting new business.”

Council is set to contribute approximately $2.31million to the upgrades, while the rest will be generated through profits or grants.

“This is a long-term, 10-year-plus plan for the park, so while it ($6.7million) sounds like a lot of money, it’s happening over a long period,” Mr Rule said. “The expectation would be that as the business improves and starts generating more cash flow, it will pay for a lot of this work. 

“Close to $4million is earmarked for the installation of 30 new cabins, which becomes the asset of the business.

“To make the park commercially viable…. certain works need to be undertaken. 

“The Business Plan is also a live document, and can be updated, or turned on or off, as required.”

Acting Wentworth Shire Mayor, Cr Tim Elstone, said it was exciting to see the first part of the works get under way.

“It’s great for the park and great for the town, and great for tourism,” he said. “We’re already seeing a reflection in increased numbers over the past 12 months, and I’ve personally received nothing but good reports (since Council took over management of the park).

“New infrastructure is a must, and this new complex is just the first step.”