Dear Beagle Editor, Today's council decision is the first nail in the coffin for the integrated aquatic/cultural/community centre proposal. Mayor Liz Innes and Councillor Anthony Mayne's declarations that they will not support any future rate rise means that the project will have to be funded largely with Commonwealth/State grants. If council makes simultaneous applications to both funds in early September with a proposal as half baked as what we have seen so far then, in my view, their over-ambition (and lack of wide public consultation) gives them little chance of success. It is scandalous that council's audit committee appears not to have provided any financial guidance. Some quick work by the aquatic group, in consultation with Member for Bega Andrew Constance is needed to retrieve the situation. Beagle readers might wish to consider the presentation to Councillors that I delivered today during Public Forum. ADDRESS TO EUROBODALLA SHIRE COUNCIL EXTRAORDINARY MEETING 29 AUGUST 2017 AGENDA ITEM PSR17/050 Good morning councillors I’m Paul Bradstreet from Surf Beach. I would like to speak to you this morning on what, in my view, needs to be done to maximise council’s chances of obtaining significant state government funding for some, much needed public facilities as part of the MacKay Park precinct development project. The recent announcement by the NSW government of greatly increased funding for regional sporting infrastructure and cultural activities presents council with a new opportunity to advance this CBD consolidation project. But the timeline for applications for the cultural fund is tight and the competition for both sources of funding is likely to be very high, particularly from proposals which have reached a more advanced stage of planning and may be shovel ready. Moreover both funds have rigorous financial and economic requirements which council’s application must meet. So to proceed as recommended council needs to commit to quickly finalising an agreed concept, developing a complying application and supporting this with an energetic political lobbying effort demonstrating broad community support. Today’s staff report presents the results of the Otium concept plan and business case study. As I read it, it recommends that for the purpose of grant application councillors adopt the Option 1 single site, integrated aquatic/cultural/community centre and it foreshadows a need to consider detailed future design changes including an unspecified expansion of the facility. Importantly, it does not ask councillors to commit to the concept at this time. This tentative approach signals a lack of enthusiasm and reduces the chances of winning significant funding. Staff have specified four criteria which a successful application has to meet. I agree these are a reasonable basis for an assessment of the final proposal, and today will comment on each to the extent that I can given the incomplete information available to me. First, is the project supported by a strategic assessment? Well, the consultant didn’t think so and decided to plug this gap by preparing a draft aquatic strategy and an assessment of preferred arts and cultural facilities. Until these documents are made public and agreed to by council the application will be on very shaky foundations. Even if they are approved the application will also need to address the urban planning context of the proposal. As you know both council and the state government is keen to develop Batemans Bay as the regional centre of south eastern NSW and it follows from this that we have to be able to stage regional and state level sporting and cultural events in the Bay. In my mind, his implies a need for a 50m pool and a bigger theatre than the proposed multi-purpose 500 seat replacement for the community centre space. Additionally, I was surprised that, apart from saying that Option 1 maximises the amount of council owned land for a PPP development, the report contains no discussion of how any such development may integrate with the proposed centre, through cash or kind. And it is strange that the business plan does not mention potential links with other sporting and cultural activities at MacKay Park. Is the project underpinned by an economic assessment is the second criteria. Well, not yet but one is planned. Otium’s business plan is a financial, rather than an economic document. Its strength is its careful estimate of capital and operating costs of the options it was given albeit under very optimistic assumptions which ignore depreciation, interest costs and the potential need to do site preparation works to protect buildings from sea level rise. It will be interesting to see whether the consulting economists, SGS, can identify and quantify sufficient economic benefits and costs to meet the NSW Treasury’s requirement that the benefits exceed the costs. This is not a particularly high bar. I would like to see the SGS brief also include advice on patrons’ willingness to pay for centre use, either directly through fees or indirectly through rate increases. Third, and most importantly, is the project affordable. Well, the costs of both options are high and some of the funding sources, such as grants and anticipated profits from asset sales such as the bowling club site PPP and the community centre have yet to be identified and are likely to be risky. This leaves loans and future rate rises to make up any shortfall. At this stage I suggest that you seek firm advice from the audit committee on what a “not to be exceeded total project cost’ should be. This advice will need to be based on a calculation of council’s available borrowing capacity and hard evidence of ratepayers’ willingness to pay increased rates. Given the controversy around the size of the last round of rate increases and current flat economic conditions I’d be very surprised if ratepayers, particularly those in the southern part of the shire, are in any mood to pay more. The fourth criteria – is the project deliverable relates to technical and managerial risk. The major technical risk identified so far is the vulnerability of the whole site to sea level rise and this can be accommodated at a further cost. And the one thing I will say about managerial risk is that council has a poor track record in major development project management – think BBBR and the Surf Beach employment land projects. For a project of this size the appointment of an experienced and dedicated project manager working to clear council determined objectives and financial/time constraints is imperative. So while I urge you to proceed with the grant applications you must be frank in discussing their chances of success with the community. Expectation management is required if cynicism is to be avoided and broad community support for the project is to be demonstrated to the state government. Finally, if you are wondering what my option preference is let me tell you it is for an indoor aquatic centre only, configured to include a 50m pool. I believe the option 1 design shows all the signs of a building designed by a committee which tries to do too much and, as the report notes, option 2 destroys the commercial potential of the site. I am particularly disappointed that the proposed theatre is too small and its flat floor and removable seating means it is not a theatre in any conventional sense. I believe that many of the community/cultural activities needed can be adequately accommodated for the moment elsewhere in town. For example, last Saturday I was impressed by the use of the old Ned Kelly building in Clyde Street as the indoor space for the Sculpture by Clyde exhibition. Of course, decoupling the aquatic centre makes the project cheaper and gives you more time to get a better quality application done and to get some institutional support behind it. For instance, what does Clr Regional Development Authority have to say about the recommended proposal. But I am only one voice. What matters is that you find a solution which the community can support and is demonstrably willing to pay for. Thank you
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