New Barwon Coast CEO shares vision

February 24, 2024 BY

New Barwon Coast chief executive officer Gareth Smith. Photo: SERAH NATHAN

NEW Barwon Coast chief executive officer Gareth Smith has shared his vision for the future with the Bellarine Times, just weeks into his new role.

Bringing extensive experience from his previous role as the director of city planning and economy at the City of Greater Geelong, Mr Smith is deeply invested in the long-term success of the Barwon Coast Committee of Management and its cherished coastline.

He aims to work strategically with all levels of government, the Traditional Owners, industry, and the community, highlighting the importance of hosting 40,000 guests annually in their caravan and camping grounds and the efforts to protect environmental and cultural values.

“As an active local resident, I’m invested in the long-term success of Barwon Coast and our collective responsibility to care for this cherished coastline,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith pointed out escalating costs, urban growth, and climate change as key challenges.

“The first challenge is how do we maintain this stretch of coast within the funds we have?” he said.

He underscored the need for financial sustainability, managing the impact of population growth, and adapting to climate change.

“We’re a self-funded organisation. The revenue from our accommodation services allows us to invest not only in those services but also in the broader coast,” he said.

The introduction of new cabins and the pursuit of government support are seen as opportunities to expand the accommodation services and revenue base.

“Urban growth is the second challenge. In my previous role at Geelong, I witnessed first-hand the rapid growth.”

Mr Smith said significant urban growth, particularly in Armstrong Creek and the Bellarine, is increasing visitor numbers and putting pressure on coastal values and infrastructure.

“We’ve also seen strong growth in Ocean Grove and other parts of the Bellarine. This area is the closest main open beach for that expanding community.

“Currently, Armstrong Creek is about 60 per cent developed, with an eventual population of 60,000. About 40,000 people are living there now, making this their local coast.

“The influx of people enjoying this beautiful area poses a question: how do we manage the impact on environmental and cultural values while providing necessary infrastructure?”

Mr Smith said there was a need for strategic planning to manage this growth and its environmental and cultural impacts, mentioning the development in Armstrong Creek and the growing population’s impact on local coastlines.

“The third challenge is climate change and the changing weather conditions.

“As a coastal authority facing predicted sea level rise, adopting a strong strategic planning approach for future facilities and maintaining existing ones is crucial.

“We are planning several master plans along the coast to address infrastructure needs with climate change in mind.

“Additionally, we must consider how to design and construct infrastructure to withstand severe weather and storm events.

“As the port manager for the Estuary area, how this plays out and how we manage navigational aids and boating infrastructure are also critical considerations.”

Mr Smith’s appointment follows the retirement of Gary McPike, who was at the helm of Barwon Coast since April 2015.