Dear Beagle Editor, I note that in your list of A few little things to deal with before moving ahead you raised the issues around financing and future plans. Those in the community who have any interest in the Bowling Club site eventually begin discussing how it was that the site was purchased and why it was purchased. We know that, in 2009, the Batemans Bay Bowling Club amalgamated with Club Catalina, in a bid to ensure its survival. By March 2013 the Batemans Bay Bowling Club were forced to close their doors following a review in early 2013 the Catalina Country Club executive identified an unsustainable decrease in the bowling club’s turnover. The three years had seen the club devalued by an estimated $6 million in greens buildings, poker machine licences and assets. At a Council meeting on 26th June 2012 Councillor Allan Brown advised that “there are business people in the Batemans Bay CBD who have had a visit from a campaigning Councillor who apparently has relayed to them when Council takes over the Batemans Bay Bowling Club and redevelops it a heated swimming pool will be part of the redevelopment plans. Councillor Allan Brown advised as far as he was aware the elected Councillors hadn’t discussed development plans or ideas for the Batemans Bay Bowling Club and asked Council staff to explain what had occurred to date with any discussions about the Batemans Bay Bowling Club Source Mayor Fergus Thomson advised there had been basic talks, nothing of any great depth.The Catalina Club wants to keep bowling in Batemans Bay and there will be ongoing discussions. Batemans Bay Community Meeting 11 October 2015 - Questions from the Floor Tony Beauchamp asked about the appearance of Batemans Bay saying it was dowdy in some areas such as the old bowling club offering a poor first impression of the town. Was there any proposal for a joint venture to develop the site? Mayor Response: We have had discussions regarding the old bowling club but nothing has happened to date. We hope the land will be developed and tidied up. We can encourage community members (power of people), to contact the Catalina Club. Maureen Kinross Re Batemans Bay Bowling Club site asked "What can be done?" Response from Mayor – there is the power of the public. I did see workers cleaning up there recently. There are many rumours and the most consistent one is that the Catalina Club bought the failing Bowling Club in 2009 and then, having taken ownership of the poker machine licences relocated those to the Cat Club and began the process of closing down the Bowling Club by reducing services and opening times. The rumours also say that a Sydney club showed interest in the failing Bowling Club site which also drove the Catalina Club to purchase the site as it was fearful of the competition that might come from a new, well known institution setting up in Batemans Bay. The rumours then continue that the Catalina Club, for one reason or another, decided to sell the Bowling Club site and it was at this point Council was contacted to see if they would be interested. It is rumoured that a sale of the Bowling Club site would assist the financial position of the Catalina Club.
Council announced it had bought the site in April 2016. It is rumoured that the interested Sydney club then offered Council $300,000 more than they paid for the property. It is rumoured that Council bought the property without any plan for it and without carrying out a feasability study. We have now discovered via the Beagle that Council bought the site with a loan. The shires residents and ratepayers are paying for that now as well. Allan Brown wrote in his Letter to the Beagle May 21st : "The purchase was made without any sort of future plans for what was explained as a “Strategic Site”, whatever that’s supposed to mean ? It was known at the time of the council purchase on behalf of the shires residents that the land was, and is, effected by development controls particularly the “ Climate Change ” or “ Sea Level Rise Policy’s “ as is other parts of the Batemans Shopping Precinct. Floor level heights of the Shopping or Retail areas just across the road is evidence of that " Any change of use/purpose on this land will require a new Development Application. Will the conditions of the DA be "modified" so that Sea Level Rise and other expensive environmental constraints required for a development in this location adjacent to to a swamp won't be required? It is rumoured that Council is still considering the original ideas held by previous planners and general managers of having multi story seniors accommodation in this area with a flyover pedestrian bridge to the Plaza. Private partnership would be attracted to this as an investment and it would provide a much needed population boost to the CBD area. It has been long argued that pools and entertainment areas would continue to be a maintenance burden on the community requiring ongoing budgetary support. Can Council to come clean on exactly why they bought the land and tell the community how they paid for it and reveal what their actual long term ideas are? CAN COUNCIL ALSO PLEASE EXPLAIN: Was the Loan Application prepared by an ESC employee, a Committee or external Consultants? Who were they? Which organisation provided the Loan Facility? What is the term of the Loan and repayment requirements? Are there any Special Conditions attached to the loan? Was the Loan included in the FFTF submission? What was the justification for the loan? Was a proper Due Diligence Assessment undertaken? If so by whom? Were any Councillors involved in the Loan Application? If so which Councillors? Was the ESC Audit Committee involved in the Loan Application? Will the details of the Loan Application be made available to the public? Will the details of the Loan Approval be made available to the public? The above are in addition to the following questions that have also been asked: Was the purchase a poor risk? - in light of the Batemans Bay CBD as a whole being subject to sea level rise it might not be the best decision as the possible change of use proposed by Council for the site will require a DA that MUST consider sea level rise. - in light of the known construction difficulties of the plaza opposite, specifically in regards to footings and water basins councillors would be aware that there are potential construction difficulties that may see redevelopment costs soar. - in having no plans or purpose at the time while taking out a $2 million loan for an indefinite time many feel that the decision to purchase was ill advised at that the councilors were not sufficiently informed of Council's own procurement processes and the need to consider the "investment" as being responsible use of ratepayers money. - in being advised that the building was in very poor repair one year before purchase and the value of the land was at best $1.4 million - in coming directly after a widely objected to Special Rate Variation was voted in irrespective of 11,000 disapproving signatures indicates an audacity and an extravagance and a Council quite removed from a majority of its residents and ratepayers living in a regulated income economy. It has been noted in the Operational Plan & Budget 2016-2017, that the BBBC acquisition is described in the capital program as “real estate development” and this description is also used for an expenditure item for $106,295 on the same line as the capital expenditure. Possibly councillors might like to advise the community if they consider this a legitimate use of council funds ? Names and Addresses Supplied For Beagle readers, the following is an earlier article questioning Batemans Bay Bowling Club finances and processes that might offer background to the above. In April 2016 we discovered via a media release that Council had secretly purchased the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site for $2.7 million (excluding GST) Council buys Batemans Bay Bowling Club site Friday 29 April 2016 Council has purchased the former Batemans Bay Bowling Club and Mayor Lindsay Brown says he is delighted to be able to share the news with the community after months of confidential property negotiations. Council purchased the club on Friday for $2.7 million dollars (excluding GST) after giving General Manager Dr Catherine Dale delegation to start negotiations last year, and agreeing to the purchase price at a confidential meeting earlier this week. Media Release (in part) Funnily enough it hasn't been common knowledge that Council borrowed $2 million to pay for it. However if you delve down into page 52 of Council's DELIVERY PROGRAM 2013–2017 OPERATIONAL PLAN & BUDGET 2016–17 you will find the following table.
Above: Batemans Bay Bowling Club Acquisition - Loans.... $2,000,000 In Peter Cormick's Council Matters of March 5, 2017 he writes: "I am unaware of any feasibility studies or plans having been undertaken prior to the purchase, including what the cost might be beyond those already incurred, before any return might be expected. The explanation for this information not being available to the public is either that it does not exist or that it does exist but is being kept from the public. Either way, there are questions that must be answered by council. This is a prime example of an absence of transparency and accountability: a subject ripe for the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee (ARIC) to investigate."
Peter is correct - look for any information on Council's website regarding the purchase of the Bowling Club Site, reports to Councillors or any specific mention of it formally and you are hard pressed to find anything of substance at all. One mention of the financial considerations around the purchase can be found in the REPORT TO ORDINARY MEETING OF EUROBODALLA SHIRE COUNCIL HELD ON TUESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2016 PSR16/046 BATEMANS BAY MACKAY PARK PRECINCT REDEVELOPMENT Financial: The redevelopment is expected to be financed through a combination of state and federal government funding, Council funding and equity in the former bowling club site and private sector funding through their involvement in the redevelopment, through a PPP. A key principal of the redevelopment is a financially sustainable development. An important part of this principal will be the ongoing operating costs for any future Council owned facilities. As detailed concept plans and business cases are prepared, this financial information will become available and will form part of the planning process. In Peter Cormick’s Council Matters Feb 26th, 2017 he wrote: Council’s purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site and ARIC The next ‘matter arising’, concerns questions raised by Beagle contributor Jeff de Jager, about council’s purchase of the Batemans Bowling Club site and just what part the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee has played, if any, in examining the process by which that purchase took place . Here is what he had to say: "To keep the ball rolling, Peter, was any mention made in the discussions at the meeting on the wisdom of avoiding toxic investments outside the traditional instruments and institutions or following the (only just nominal) "Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee" report on the council's investment in the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site? Seeing that the purchase of the site was in contravention of council's own procurement policy, it would be a subject one would have thought would have been thoroughly examined by an auditing and risk committee............... or was it one of those issues supposedly robustly discussed but not approved for public knowledge?" Peter continues: "The questions raised by Mr de Jager require the attention of all councillors but, realistically, it will only receive attention from those who are genuinely committed to positive reform. And by positive reform I mean that which opens the workings of council up to the public – those to whom council is meant to be accountable – to the full extent that the relevant legislation permits" "Our constant refrain is for transparency and accountability. Transparency, in simple terms, involves ‘laying it all on the table’. Accountability involves the application of meaningful consequences for transgressions of good conduct and administrative practice." Council assures us that due process was undertaken and that Councillors were consulted and played their role in the acquisition. This assurity was given by Council in writing to Mr de Jager:
Above: These are some of the answers to the many questions put to Council by Mr de Jager regarding the purchase of the Bowling Club site. In trawling through Council's website to establish if Councillors had said anything on record regarding the purchase we discovered nothing, other than the following from 2012.
On November 8th, 2016 Trish Hellier asked in Public Forum: How much longer will this facility be left idle? Council's Response: Council is currently considering options related to both the short term / interim use of the facility and the redevelopment of the broader precinct. This is a process that Council must consider carefully, because there is the potential that making the facility available for short term / interim use could require significant funds to make the facility safe and suitable for use. It is not possible to provide a timeframe in response to this question, other than to say that Council sees there are potential opportunities for short term / interim use and significant opportunities associated with the redevelopment of the precinct. "It is not possible to provide a timeframe in response to this question......" Must be very interesting terms Council has on their $2 million dollar loan. Are the current Councillors aware that the previous Council borrowed $2 million on a speculation?