(Councillors withheld permission for Mr Mobbs to tape record this)
Good morning Mayor, Councillors and others in attendance today.
My name is John Mobbs and I have resided in the shire since 2007.
I am a ratepayer and I currently live at Malua Bay.
My purpose here this morning is to table and speak to a set of resolutions formulated at a very successful public meeting of 120 citizens at the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club on 15 February 2018. The meeting took place under a banner of “Our Town Our Say”and ran for almost 2.5 hours. I agreed to act as MC, in a volunteer capacity. The meeting was organised by the team called “Save Our 50-Metre Pool” in order to exchange information and community views on the mooted Mackay Park Aquatic Arts and Leisure Centre at Batemans Bay.
Council is to be applauded for seeking potential external funding of $46.3 million to create such a Centre. It has potential to become a gateway development that will serve the interests and needs of many in the community. Hopefully, it will also be a tourist drawcard.
Council should not be applauded for its limited, incomplete and poorly targeted consultation on this proposal. On 29 August 2017 and under considerable time pressure, councillors were given only two concept options. Neither option included refurbishment and retention of the existing 50-metre swimming pool.
Refurbishment was not addressed in the August 2017 Final Draft Report of the Otium Planning Group. Discussion of a 50-metre pool in that report focuses on a new pool, for which a construction cost estimate of $6.5 million is suggested. The main reason appears to be that Otium interpreted Council’s Draft 2016 Aquatic Strategy as precluding a 50-metre pool.
• Does that Strategy still have “Draft” status? If not, perhaps it can be reviewed?
• Does the Otium report still have “Draft” status? If not, perhaps Otium can be
directed to examine the economics of refurbishment and re-use?
The existing 50-metre pool is a valuable community asset that is well-loved and wellused,
except in winter – either because it is not covered or else not open. Even so,there is now a considerable and growing degree of disquiet in the community at the prospect of losing it. Several user groups, who were originally supportive of the proposed new Centre, withdrew support, once Council’s full intentions finally became clear. Other user groups were not consulted at all, in the first instance.
Denigration of the existing pool on the basis of its age and maintenance costs has not
been matched by disclosure of the information that Council claims underpins its
decision to demolish it.
• Council has claimed: “To include a 50-metre pool would have weakened our
business case…” Further explanation was not forthcoming. Refurbishment
and re-use might have strengthened that Business Case, reducing costs.
• The Mayor wrote that: “we believe a 50-metre pool is not affordable or
justified at this time.” No further details were provided to support that belief.
• Councillor Pollock, on 29 August 2017, said: “there’s no way in the world
that a community of Batemans Bay can support an indoor, heated 50-metre
pool. All of the figures that have been given to us, in terms of construction,
and operating and then, supervision, make it just not a proposition in any way,
shape or form…and I certainly wouldn’t be voting for a 50-metre pool, I tell
ya….” Just which figures he was referring to is unclear but the words
“refurbishment cost” cannot be found in the Otium report, so it is unlikely he
was referring to that.
• An Otium representative, having been asked on 29 August 2017, if a 50-metre
pool would fit within the proposed Mackay Park development footprint,
responded that Otium hadn’t done detailed design - it would require re-design
- but broadly, it would be able to be accommodated.
• An FAQ sheet re-issued hastily by Council in February this year, removed any
reference to Otium, and stated: “the existing pool is ageing and would need to
be removed or replaced at additional cost.” One wonders how many councillors and staff would remain in this room, under a Council policy of replacing everything older than 52 years that looks a bit tired!
Interested citizens have asked for the factual information backing Council’s claims but they appear to have been met with stonewalling, obfuscation, delay and indifference. Members of the “Save Our 50-metre Pool” team have taken to social media in frustration and have also been dogged in requesting reports that presumably support Council’s demolition stance. They are now suspicious that the relevant information may not support that stance – or may not even exist. Council has the means and the opportunity to defray those suspicions, by releasing the requested reports ASAP, rather than continuing to play games around the timeworn “Commercial In Confidence” bogeyman.
For the meeting on 15 February, an alternative concept plan was produced, with a 50-metre pool where Otium had proposed a 25-metre pool. This was to demonstrate, in a simplistic manner, that the Otium response as indicated above was valid. It was acknowledged that professional, detailed design work would be necessary to properly prove that alternative concept using the existing 50-metre pool. Otium just has to be told to do it.
The meeting was characterised by concern, constructive suggestions and common sense – but it was not without a bucket of criticism for the way that Council has behaved on this issue since August 2017. One councillor attended.
An overwhelming majority voted for the resolutions as put and amended, with a view to them being forwarded to Council for consideration. There were only 5-6 dissenters in the room. At least one representative of Council’s Sunset Committee was present.
One of the resolutions would involve a rescission motion for Council. The editor of The Beagle attended the meeting and has provided comprehensive reportage, including the resolutions and a copy of a letter received from Mayor Innes that I decided should not be read aloud, due to timing constraints – but it was tabled there for public scrutiny. History has shown that councillors attempting to represent their constituents by putting Notices of Motion onto the Council meeting agenda can be browbeaten and subjected to intense pressure by Council staff and other officials.
[Preceding sentence retracted due to Council objection] • Surely such behaviour is not tolerated within a supposedly democratic system? • Does the tail wag the dog here? • Is the Office of Local Government aware that this is common practice? • Is that same Office aware of how frequently this Council employs a veil of secrecy or confidentiality, to conceal controversial or unpopular decisions? Councillors, please add these resolutions to the official public record on this vexed issue, so that those from the Community who attended the meeting can be assured that “having their say” was not a waste of their time. Please reflect on these resolutions and think again about what is being proposed at Mackay Park, what is possible and why the option of refurbishment and re-use of the existing 50-metre pool, within an integrated Aquatic, Arts and Cultural Centre, was not considered nor referred to Otium. I have already provided the resolutions, as well as my credentials on the reverse side. Thank you Mayor, Councillors and other attendees for your forbearance. That concludes my remarks. Jonathan (John) Mobbs
RESOLUTIONS FROM PUBLIC MEETING: 15 FEB 2018 At the conclusion of the meeting, a majority of attendees expressed dissatisfaction with the way Council is handling the proposed redevelopment of MacKay Park Precinct, in particular, by not making all relevant information available to the community in a timely manner. The following resolutions were prepared for inclusion in a submission to Council: That 1. Council immediately amend (or rescind) Resolution PSR17/050 of 29 August 2017 and that: a. Council note that actions taken and work completed pursuant to previous resolution PSR17/0505 of 29 August 2017 did not include comparative evaluation of the option to retain or improve the existing Batemans Bay 50-metre pool in situ. b. Council advise if alternative sites were considered for the Batemans Bay Aquatic and Arts/Cultural precinct and, if these were rejected,why? c. Council halt further work and issue no further instructions or tenders on the MacKay Park precinct project until actions to address this oversight are completed. 2. Council immediately release all reports and financial data relating to recent and ongoing maintenance costs for the existing 50-metre pool at Batemans Bay including, no later than the date of the next council meeting, an unredacted and complete copy of the Structural Audit Report prepared by Brown Consulting (now Calibre Consulting), so that interested parties and the community may review the information that has led to Council deciding that the 50-metre pool must be demolished. 3. Council undertake comprehensive consultation with interested parties and the community, to evaluate their views on retention of the existing 50-metre pool,following release of the Calibre Consulting Structural Audit Report. 4. Council, following evaluation of the concerns of interested parties and the community, prepare a Business Case that compares the projected cost of its previously preferred option 1 for MacKay Park precinct with the cost of retaining and refurbishing the existing 50-metre pool, in-situ, integrated within a redesigned Regional Aquatic and Arts/Cultural precinct.
5. Council immediately contact the three funding bodies from which financial grants have recently been sought and request a stay of proceedings, while further community collaboration is completed within the Shire.