I decided to go along to today’s meeting of Council – the last of the year – and I anticipated some lively action. I read an article in the Beagle entitled “Pack the Gallery 12th December and tell Council you aren't going to take it anymore.” I wanted to know what the “it” is that we are not going to take any more. I knew, of course, that “it” was related to the proposed development at Mackay Park and in particular that it would be about the absence of a 50m swimming pool in Council’s present Concept Plan. The article urged people to pack the gallery at Council’s next meeting with a towel draped over their shoulder or swim goggles on their head. In the event, there were less than twenty concerned citizens in the public gallery of whom several were carrying towels but none were wearing goggles. The public gallery was not packed. There was, however, one junior citizen present and her mother is to be commended for exposing this young person to democracy at work.
Above: There were towel carriers to be seen but none were wearing goggles
Speaking of democracy at work I was intrigued to notice that the screens at the front of the Council Chamber showed the actions of the minute taker. Now, it has always been the case that she who writes the minutes of the meeting controls the outcome of the meeting. Were we seeing deep transparency at work here with the construction of real-time minutes? Perhaps we were.
In the event the most amusing, though of course deadly serious, entertainment came from item PSR17/079 which promised to address the otherwise somewhat routine-sounding matter of a subdivision at Moruya Airport for eleven additional lots. The Deputy Mayor, demonstrating that his attention had not flagged after two hours of discussion, referred to the supporting documentation. This contains a section on what are called “hollow bearing trees”. We ordinary citizens call these simply hollow trees; quite how a hollow can bear anything is clearly a matter on which environmentalists have reached a consensus but which makes no sense to me. The Deputy Mayor pointed out the protocol that applies if a hollow tree is to be removed. He noted that the tree was first to be “shaken or nudged by tree-felling equipment to encourage any fauna to vacate the trees. In the event that fauna emerge from a hollow, they must be permitted to exit the tree prior to felling. I, for one, am pleased to think that there is a protocol that allows us humans to evict residents of trees before they are felled. I have in my mind the image of a stream of evicted fauna disconsolately wending its way along the banks of the Moruya River. There is a play in that somewhere; perhaps a sequel to Wind in the Willows.
But before we heard about the plight of the dwellers in hollow trees we listened to several submissions about the proposed Mackay Park Precinct development. The central issue for the towel carriers and goggle wearers is that the current concept plan for the Mackay Park Precinct development does not contain a 50-metre pool. That this is a matter for some concern arises because there is currently a 50-metre pool at Batemans Bay. It has been there 50 years and in the view of some of the speakers this is reason enough for it to be replaced in the proposed redevelopment. The speakers to Council were long on demand but short of evidence and logical argument. At a previous Council meeting that discussed this matter we were told that the 25-metre pool at Moruya receives about 30% more visits than the 50-metre pool at Batemans Bay. Moruya has half the population of Batemans Bay. Why would that not mean that the facilities at Moruya should not be extended? One of the protagonists for the 50-metre pool was clear when questioned that she had no problem with any other features of the proposed Concept Plan; she wanted the proposed 25 metre pool to be extended to 50 metres.
The Concept Plans contain several “water bodies”. These would include a 25-metre, eight-lane pool with ramp access, a separate 10-metre warm-water therapy pool and spa, and a freeform indoor leisure pool that includes learn-to-swim and toddler areas. There was some discussion about whether some or all of these facilities could be replaced with a 50-metre pool that could be divided up. This caused Councillor Nathan to wonder, with the benefits of a pharmaceutical background, about how such an arrangement would cope with “whoopsies”. I am sure that this is the first use of the word “whoopsie” in a Council meeting. The answer, of course, is that it would not cope: the entire facility would need to be cleansed. If there are several water bodies then exposure to a whoopsie attack is much reduced. This is a practical matter that planners need to attend to. In the event, there seemed to be little appetite for a large pool that could divided up.
I should like to see 50 metre pools in each of the various centres of population in Eurobodalla; Mogo and Bodalla, for example, would each benefit from a 50-metre pool. Unfortunately, the ratepayers of Eurobodalla might not see the benefits in their rates notices. In this vein, the Mayor asked one speaker for clarification. She noted that at present the ratepayers of Eurobodalla subsidise each swim in the Batemans Bay 50-metre pool to the tune of $6 a pop. She asked the speaker what he thought was a reasonable subsidy. I was somewhat incredulous when the speaker replied that no doubt the Council’s financial planning processes would sort that out. This is but one example of the fact that the protagonists for a 50-metre pool have not thought through their claim. It was clear to me that behind the Mayor’s question was the implication that a new 50 metre pool would demand the ratepayer to make an even greater subsidy. It is not good enough to assert, as one speaker did, that moving from a 50-metre pool to a 25-metre pool would be a “backward step.” We need to know why it would be a backward step and that requires factual evidence rather than unsupported and subjective assertions.
It is the lot of Council to be criticised and sometimes that criticism is justified. The word “transparency” is used with some frequency at Council meetings: all Councillors wish to be seen as transparent. They do not wish to make decisions behind closed doors, and neither should they. Consultation and communication are important aspects of community engagement. They are also very hard to get right. The matter of the Mackay Park Precinct development is being overseen by the attractively, if somewhat apocalyptically named Sunset Committee. This committee would itself have been sunset on 31 December 2017 had this morning’s Council meeting not agreed to extend its life. Its terms of reference and constitution came in for some comment and criticism. When this committee was established its constitution called for eight members. It is rather nice to think that nine members were appointed. We need some more of that sort of mathematics, perhaps that is the way to pay for a 50-metre pool.
The debate about the pool will continue as indeed it should do, both within and without the Sunset Committee. Voices need to be heard but those voices need to marshal facts that support their case rather than to reply on subjective assertions. Proponents of the 50-metre pool, whose commitment is to be admired, need to do more research and visit and collect data from other facilities. And as one of the Councillors remarked during the discussion on the Sunset Committee; we haven’t got any money yet. And even if we do get any money it may not be as much as we’ve asked for and that will be the time when the tough decisions need to be made.