The walls of Council have ears and its roof has many leaks. From what we have gathered to date here is a possible round up of actions around the Bowling Club purchase that Council remain loath to reveal even though they have been asked every which way by many of the Usual Suspects hoping to establish why the site was purchased without any plan in place or without any consultation with the community. The following, though based on whispers might go towards putting some pieces of the puzzle together. Many years ago under the rule of then General Manager Jim Levy Eurobodalla Council discussed behind closed doors the acquisition of the Old Batemans Bay Bowling Club site. In 2008 when Levy retired after 11 years as GM Paul Anderson took the reins and also continued on with the "dream" to see the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site become a conference centre, information centre, specialised shops and multistory accommodation working in partnership with a private developer. In 2009, the Batemans Bay Bowling Club amalgamated with Club Catalina and took over its debt which, at the time, amounted to approximately $1.2m. 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 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. 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. At the Finance and Services Committee meeting of 12th March 2013 Pat Bill made a submission to Council. “in 2009, we amalgamated with Catalina - that amalgamation has failed. Catalina took over our debt and we transferred $5.4m of assets plus almost $800k of poker machine entitlements” At the Batemans Bay Community Meeting 11 October 2015 - Questions from the Floor Mayor Lindsay Brown: “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.” Council had been having discussions with Club Catalina since November 2014 as was revealed in the Bay Post article of Friday 29 April, 2016 Bay Post "Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce and Club Catalina are delighted with the sale of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site to Eurobodalla Shire Council. Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce president Allan Rutherford said the chamber was “very happy” about the sale. “We have been lobbying council for 18 months to buy the site,” he said. It is understood that the then asking price was $1.4 million. Council ended up paying $2.7. Club Catalina in their 2015 - 2016 annual report stated: From October last year (2015) there was a steady flow of interest in this sale with one company provided exclusive rights for 120 days to investigate whether the site was suited to their purpose. During these negotiations a riparian corridor was highlighted as a contract killer. This corridor restricts development within 40 metres of the high water line and resulted in a 30 percent reduction in available land. The deal fell through. There were other offers and each was carefully considered but in the end the board was very pleased the successful bidder was the Eurobodalla Shire Council and this strategically placed asset would remain within our community’s portfolio. There is widespread rumor and opinion building regarding the continued obfuscation around the ex-BBBC purchase. It is understood by The Beagle that a metropolitan football club made an offer to buy the site from the Catalina Country Club then made an offer to Eurobodalla Council soon after the purchase and that their offer was $300,000 above the $2.7 million paid by Council. The rumor of the metropoltan club is an interesting one and goes hand in hand with the apparent unwillingness of selling to such an outside body that saw the property as a means of expanding into the region and bringing with it the very well established branded social facility that would no doubt have offered considerable competition to local clubs including the Catalina Country Club. It is understood that a councillor remarked at the time of purchase of the site "we had no choice". It is now understood that knowing that another buyer was interested in the site may have prompted council’s decision to go ahead with the purchase in order to capture the “strategic site” but the nature of that party’s intentions have not been formally revealed. Understandably that can’t be done due to commercial in confidence however there is little doubt that councillors would have been aware of what was proposed leading to their determination to block that development to protect their "gateway dream" that cost the ratepayers $2.7 million. And that may well be true given the "dream" they collectively shared of a convention centre with its bus terminal, visitor information, parking, shops, accommodation (seniors or otherwise) that would bring trade back into the CBD and all side by side with a performance centre and aquatic centre. All a very nice dream however for some reason it is a dream that has been discussed at length behind closed doors; as too was the aquatic/performance space project. There was no community inclusion in the dream and why should there be. They would only have opinions and suggest that such developments are best left to the private sector and that Council should focus on Roads, Rates and Rubbish. It is strongly argued by the community that Council should have carried out the required feasibility study prior to the purchase however their response to date has remained that NO study was carried out as there was no definite plan. They have advised that there IS NO fall-back position should there not be a viable outcome when EOI’s are being sought. Is there one now? We don't know. However we do know that they have again been offered a considerable figure for the site by a private developer that they have turned down adamant that they wish to pursue the Public Private Partnership. It is understood that there will be councillors reading this who have little if any idea of what is being offered to them here as back ground. If they aren't included in the big picture, the history and the reasoning behind why they can't answer question posed to them by the community how can they effectively represent the community on what is a major Shire Project. Of interest is that any development on the site which requires a change of use, will automatically require compliance with current “rules” likely to see the whole thing having to be raised to a level sufficient to prevent patrons getting wet feet plus having to satisfy all the other environmental conditions applicable to such a site inclusive of the proposed adoption of the Coastal Management Plan. Newcomers to the area might not be familiar with the observations at the time of how deep the adjacent Village Centre foundation piers had to go until they found solid before being able to support the, essentially single level, structure. Even then, there has been some movement of the piers of the Village Centre since completion engineering studies will need to be carried out as they have just been done with the proposed new Batemans Bay Bridge which also established that there was little rock base at depth. Our sources have revealed that behind closed doors Council is looking at a five story complex. In the absence of real information from council some guess that this is leading to a likely cost of any development being significantly upwards of $20 - $30 million. In order to be financially viable as a Private sector investment the proposed convention centre would have to be a multi-level development to fit the possible list of uses/users council included in the call for EOI in a PPP.
Bearing in mind the shire’s relatively low population base and the site’s eccentric location nearer its northern end a key question is “Who will be game enough to provide sufficient investment to make it happen in the first place and who will provide sufficient on-going “patronage” to keep it afloat financially into the future?” The very same questions are being asked of the proposed aquatic centre and performance space that will be a tandem development on the Vesper Street frontage. It is already the opinion of the community that the visitation numbers suggested by the consultant to provide an indication of projected revenues were unrealistic given the population base, the median age and the true expendable income. Because council has not been forthcoming with any plan and even, after all this time, unwilling to provide answers to the community questions the continued secrecy has caused widespread distrust of Council in how it has dealt with the purchase and raising the question of why it bought the property in the first place. There remains major disquiet regarding the whole of the site and a considerable displeasure in how council has managed its communications. Presently the purchase, paid for by loan, is seen as a further unnecessary millstone around ratepayers necks and many believe that Council should not, based on its very poor track record, be involved in any property speculation using ratepayers money. Especially in light of the fact that they are doing their best to not include the ratepayers in any discussion. No doubt, the change in the Expressions of Interest wish-list from “aged living” facilities to simply “residential” resulted from someone dropping the penny that to make a profit from the sale of apartments to cover their costs and make a contribution overall, there would have to be a lot of them and at “luxury” standards and prices to boot! The question of how difficult will it be to build on the site, what environmental constraints are in place including the 40m riparian buffer was recently asked of Council following on from the clear and alarming statement by the Catalina Country Club in their 2015-2016 Annual report. Council's spokesperson provided the following statement: The risks to the former Batemans Bay Bowling Club site from sea level rise are low and very manageable. Site specific details of inundation are: the site has a low point of around 2.0 m AHD in the existing car park and a high point of around 2.9 m AHD. The degree of projected hazard at the site is not a constraint in terms of what can be built such as commercial and residential development, and community facilities such as an aquatic centre or arts space. Even the worst case scenario could be easily mitigated with fill which would be a requirement of Council if the site was to be developed and or subdivided. Council’s approach to development in areas potentially at risk from inundation scales the development controls from residential as the most conservative (highest floor level) to commercial uses as the least conservative. The Interim Coastal Hazards Adaptation Code (2015) prescribes a range of scenarios for sea level rise depending on the proposed use of a site. Residential development applies a planning consideration of: projected inundation from a 1 in 100 (1%) storm that is likely to occur within a 50 year planning period (up to 2065) This level is 2.46 mAHD plus 500mm free board 2.96 would be the floor level for any new residential development. Could be achieved through floor levels of raising natural ground surface. Commercial development applies a planning consideration of: Projected inundation from a 1 in 20 (5%) storm that is likely to occur within a 50 year planning period (up to 2065) 2.3m AHD plus 300mm free board Height of floors = 2.6mAHD. Based on the above, the majority of the former Batemans Bay Bowling Club site is unencumbered for commercial uses. A combination of commercial and residential would mean the site is reasonably unconstrained if commercial was on ground floor, however some fill may be required to achieve a perfectly level site. With regards to the riparian corridor on the site, Clause 6.7 of the Eurobodalla Local Environmental Plan 2012 (ELEP 2012), sets out the considerations for development of land within 40 m of any watercourse identified in the Riparian Lands and Watercourse Map. However in this instance, and as the bowling greens were developed within the 40 m buffer area many years ago, a buffer no longer exists, and as such while a consideration, it is not a major constraint to development of this site. So there it is. The Bowling Club background as we understand it provided by ears on walls and leaks from within. Why it is so hush hush is anyone's guess. It is inevitable that it will all be revealed one way or the other via financial reports and retired staff no longer required to "remain confidential". Though little of the above can be substantiated all that would be required to do so is to ring one of the councillors who has been there through the entire timeline since day one and ask him to confirm or deny. Lindsay Brown and Liz Innes are both equally informed so a quick phone call to them might also be in order to establish the fact from the supposition above.