It should be an interesting meeting

This morning (Nov 17th) at 9:30 am in the meeting rooms of the Batemans Bay Community Centre a group of well informed and concerned citizens with be asking Andrew Constance, Member for Bega specific questions around the grant application and process of the proposed new Aquatic/performance centre for Batemans Bay that has, much to the surprise of many, a 25m pool instead of a 50m one. Though Save the 50m Pool supporters specifically asked for a private meeting with their State Member over concerns they had regarding the Eurobodalla Council and the way they have carried out the consultation, tendering, quoting, community inclusion and genuine open and transparent consultation the meeting now sees uninvited Council staff attending, much to the disappointment of the group who strongly believe that the very attendance of the Mayor and senior staff will impact on the discussion they wished to privately have with their State Minister. What the group will have at hand though are the many letters of support they have garnered for a 50m pool from local user groups and national swimming bodies and national coaches. These will be tabled along with the letter (below) received from the Mayor. Following the meeting between Keep the 50m Pool representatives and Council staff on Monday, 13 November 2017 with regard to the proposed Regional Aquatic and Arts Precinct at Mackay Park, Batemans Bay the Mayor indicated in her letter delivered Nov 16th it was: ..."good to meet with everyone around the table. She said in her letter to the group "I acknowledge receipt of the information you tabled at the meeting. I, and the staff who attended the meeting have also read the letters and other documents you provided. "It’s too early to be able to say exactly what could be included in a final design as we have not yet determined a final budget. Until Council enters into a funding agreement with clear project milestones, details such as the water facilities and other inclusions are subject to variation and further consideration. "This acknowledges that the final project may change depending on the total funds available. "Council is currently, and will continue to look at all funding and grant opportunities. Council may also need to review the current proposal and prioritise what is included to ensure the final design responds to the community’s needs, is affordable and can be built within the final budget agreed on. "Council will need to consider allocating some funds from its forward budgets, and other funding sources such as loan funding. The business case for the $46 million proposal is only affordable if sufficient grants and external funding is secured. "The option of 50 metre pool were considered in the development of the preliminary concept plan and Council has resolved that “in the detailed planning and design process for the aquatic centre and arts and cultural facility, Council consider the potential to expand the facility, if and when, needed into the future” (Minutes of the Extraordinary Council Meeting held on 29 August 2017). "As explained at our meeting, there are many stages in a large project like this and we are currently only in the very early stage, having developed concept plan and trying to secure funding." the Mayor offered in her post-meeting correspondence "The design process will include a number of reviews and proposals, further quantity surveyor costings and a detailed design prior to calling for tenders for the construction. During this process Council will need to consider many aspects of the facility. We will then determine the most appropriate and affordable components of the new centre from the perspectives of capital and future operating costs, and the new venue’s ability to meet the aquatic and leisure activity requirements of the entire Eurobodalla community. | "The construction tender stage lets Council become aware of the true market cost of building the facility and there may be further negotiations and revisions during this phase before a final design and price is agreed on. "In regards to engagement, Council has already resolved to “develop a process to ensure ongoing engagement with the community throughout the design and development phase of the facility” (Minutes of the Extraordinary Council Meeting held on 29 August 2017). "Councillors and staff have been listening and will continue to listen, and be aware of the varied views in our community that we hear both formally and informally. We are aware through our numerous conversations with many people in the community, correspondence received, petitions, letters to the editor, media, social media, contact with stakeholders during service delivery, group decisions, online conversations, meetings and our formal consultation processes. The engagement to date, both formal and informal, has been effective at providing Council with an understanding of community and stakeholder wants and expectations to inform their decision making. "While you may not agree with our decisions and actions, I want to assure you that we are very aware of your views and we have made our decisions with many inputs from our community, and consideration of professional advice. "I will also assure you that we will continue to listen to your views alongside anyone else in our community who wants to be involved. While we have been elected to be decision makers, we value and respect feedback from the community which helps us understand issues and different perspectives that we consider as part of our decision making process. "Council will continue to pursue this exciting opportunity to build an affordable aquatic and arts facility that will provide economic, social and health benefits to people living in Batemans Bay and the wider Eurobodalla community. The aquatic centre will aim to meet the needs of everyone in our community who wants to use a pool in Batemans Bay. "While this may not, for realistic financial reasons, fully satisfy particular interest groups like yourselves, we are confident that it will better service the needs of many more people in the community" This response however was not acceptable to the Save the 50m Pool group and, on reading, will also not be acceptable to the many voices that are raising considerable concerns with Council's so-called consultation process including the less than acceptable or transparent mechanisms they undertook to commission, draft and cost their concept plans along with the information they have been providing to the community. The Save the 50m representatives raised concerns with the Mayors response letter saying that there were a number of points that did not reflect their record of the meeting. They particularly drew the Mayors (and staffs) attention to information lifted from the NSW Sports Infrastructure website relating to variations or changes once grant funding has been finalised. This information was contained in the group's brief tabled at the Monday 13/11/2017 meeting. In that information the Mayor and staff were clearly advised that : "Information received from NSW Sports Infrastructure Fund is that once funding has been finalised, it becomes difficult to include significant variations. If there are any changes to the application/concept plan as submitted, then sooner rather than later is better." This information was confirmed by John Egan, Director, Facilities Strategy and Planning at Sport Infrastructure Group, NSW Office of Sport, as well as Minister Constance’ office yesterday. In order to better understand the grant application the Keep the 50m pool representatives have requested on several recent occasions a copy of the two grant applications lodged by council. On request they were advised, again by John Egan, Director, Facilities Strategy and Planning at Sport Infrastructure Group, NSW Office of Sport, that the option to release these documents to the public is entirely up to Council. Now of concern is that when Council were asked for copies of the grant applications they were advised by a staff member that Council had received "advice" from the Premiers Department that the grant applications could not be released due to "commercial in confidence". Seeing that there appeared to be a conflict of State Government advice a request was made of Council to advise the name of the person in the Premiers Department that gave the advice that the grant application was not to be released due to "commercial in confidence" only to be told that the person was "having a sick day" and was not able to be contacted. A subsequent phone call to the Premiers Department however confirmed that it was at the discretion of Council to release the grant application and that they would not have advised that it was "commercial in confidence". In the end the Premiers Department directed all further enquiries to John Egan who had also previously advised a member of the Keep the 50m group that the grant application could not be provided by his department and must be proved by Council. The group continued in writing with their response to the Mayor's letter saying: "You have provided us with undertakings that: Council will carry out due diligence regarding the construction/running costs of a 25m pool and a 50m pool; Council will facilitate team visits to similar facilities to gather information; Council will facilitate further forums with the community, swimming groups and individuals. "It appears that these points have been omitted from your report. We are concerned, as there is an urgent need to follow up, time is of the essence and we wonder whether you are truly listening or simply telling us what you think we want to hear. "You appear to have missed the important point and that is that the proposal to demolish the 50m pool is still on the table and this needs to be amended to include the 50m pool in the concept plans BEFORE any grant funding is finalised NOT after the fact." Over the last couple of days since the meeting there has been a very disturbing rumble in regards to a comment made by senior Council staffer, in the presence of the Mayor and within hearing range of several attendees at the conclusion of Monday’s meeting, that ‘they will get what we tell them, not what they want’. The group has now responded to the Mayor's reply stating "In the circumstances, we feel the consultation process and promises to be a farce. Do you have any comment to make regarding the remark made by your staff member which is now ‘out there’ in the public domain?"

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