Desperate, anxious, suicidal

• Some of the 70 people impacted by Discovery Parks’ redevelopment of Coogee Beach Caravan Park fronted Cockburn council’s meeting on Thursday evening seeking answers. Full story page 2. Photo by Steve Grant

Worst fears realised as park bosses say residents must leave

ELDERLY Coogee Beach Caravan Park residents are “anxious, fearful, sad and confused” after receiving confirmation last Thursday they’re to be pushed out for more lucrative cabin accommodation. 

The letter from Discovery Parks CEO Grant Wilckens, which was hand delivered to residents of 40 affected transportable homes, outlined the company’s plans to redevelop the park’s beachfront area. 

While Mr Wilckens says affected residents would be given “as much time as possible” to find alternative sites for their homes and Discovery Parks would look to see if there were alternatives within its network, that option was “not guaranteed”. Communications manager Jessica Playford told the Herald the company had no legal requirement to find suitable alternatives for the residents. 

Sparked concern 

“If the redevelopment goes ahead it is still 12 months away,” Mr Wilckens wrote to residents. 

“We understand that the letter has sparked concern amongst the residents, but the majority won’t be affected.” 

As first reported by the Herald, Discovery leases the park from Cockburn council (“Elderly fear for future,” January 7, 2021) and is now seeking a new 21- year lease with a further 21-year option, in return for investing $9.5 million in “upgrades”. 

Mr Wilckens’ letter outlines modern cabin accomodation, new infrastructure and a playground.

Cockburn councillors will need to ratify a business plan and the new lease before Discovery can progress, but when contacted by the Herald this week most said they were unaware of Mr Wilckens’ letter or if the council had any plans to help the residents. 

Councillor Michael Separovich said the site was meant to be a caravan park and not a home for permanent residents, despite one couple having lived there for some 40 years. 

“Most residents at the park are in permanent housing, not caravans. It’s not the best situation but it’s inevitable; Coogee Beach needs improvement and I will vote for  [the lease],” Cr Separovich said. 

Cr Separovich said it wasn’t uncommon for residents to start thinking they owned something once they’d been leasing it for long enough. 

Deputy mayor Lara Kirkwood wouldn’t comment and referred the Herald to the council’s media release published February 6. 

It notes that despite how long some people have been living at the park, they have only been on periodic leases in lifestyle villages not considered a part of the caravan park itself. 

Park residents held a committee meeting on Tuesday, with chair Peter Newsome saying they needed to squash Chinese whispers after Mr Wilckens’ letter was taken to social media. 

However, in a reply to Mr Wilckens seen by the Herald, Mr Newsome says they were “devastated” to be told Discovery “have no obligation to pay compensation or relocation costs”. 

“Ladies have visited my home distressed and in tears because they don’t know how to manage the situation,” Mr Newsome wrote. 

“Everyone here needs Discovery Parks to offer some solutions as this committee is not able to help with the mounting levels of desperation and despair.” 

Residents have raised concerns the impact of the decision is having a damaging affect on the mental health of some of the park’s most vulnerable residents. 

“At the last meeting there was even talk of suicide which horrified me personally,” one resident wrote to councillors.

Long-term resident Jillian attended the meeting and is hoping Discovery Parks will provide either financial compensation or assistance with a potential move. 

“Forty one houses in total need to move but a lot of residents either want to stay put or don’t have the money to do so. I’ve been quoted $40,000 to relocate my place,” she said.

“Just imagine last week, a group of elderly people in the middle of a Covid lockdown, masks on, startled eyes and crying,” she said.

Mr Newsome said he and his wife Sally are the only support for some of the residents. 

“Most of these people are my friends so it’s pretty distressing,” he said.

“These oldies have been paying their rent for all these years and now all of a sudden they have to get out.”

Once residents have their leases terminated by Discovery, they will get 180 days to find a new home.

One woman who was recently diagnosed with cancer says once you dig into people’s backgrounds, the daunting obstacles they will have to overcome in order for everyone to resettle becomes clear.

“Everyone’s got a story. I’ve got a daughter with mental health issues and I’m about to start radiation therapy. None of us need this right now,” she said.

Discovery says residents are likely to be given final notice in early 2022 if its new lease is approved. 

Ms Playford said the company will look at any relocations to the nearby Woodman Point Caravan Park on a case-by-case basis. 

Residents are due to meet Mr Wilckens at the Coogee Beach Surf Club this coming Thursday, but it is unclear whether the Adelaide-based executive will attend in person due to travel restrictions.

Mr Wilckens says he will not respond to media questions at the meeting.

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