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Council’s fails its own Community Engagement Framework

Dear Beagle Editor,

Anger, frustration, distrust, concern and lack of confidence in Eurobodalla Council continues to be expressed in Letters to the Editor. One important and contentious issue is Council’s shortsighted, visionless and publicly unsupported plan to regress Batemans Bay’s swimming future by replacing our 50m pool with a 25m pool in a planned aquatic/arts centre and their failure to follow their own Community Engagement Framework/Charter.

Eurobodalla Council’s Community Engagement Charter (CEC) states: ‘Eurobodalla Shire Council will engage with the community and our stakeholders…in regard to major issues and plans affecting the region and activities that will have an impact on the community.’

Council’s Community Engagement Framework (CEF) defines Stakeholders as people or groups who have an interest in or may be impacted by the project.

Engaging with the community stakeholders on a contentious issue like the removal of the 50m pool is stated in Eurobodalla Council’s CEF/CEC process. So why didn’t Council follow their own engagement advice in the CEF/CEC? Why didn’t Council conduct a survey to find out if the community wanted a 25m pool? A March social media poll found 94% support for a heated 50m pool and 6% support for a heated 25m pool. Survey Monkey results so far show that out of three options – 53.85% support for an outdoor heated 50m pool/indoor heated 25m pool; 38.03% support for an indoor heated 50m pool; 11.11% support for an indoor heated 25m pool.

The community might be interested to know that questions Council asks in their CEF to inform the community engagement process include: 1. Is there a high level of impact in this project? 2. Is it contentious or likely to be? 3. Is there a high level of community/media interest? 4. Does it affect areas identified for community use? In addition - ‘A projects level of impact relates to how significantly a proposal or action will affect community stakeholders…defines the degree of impact in five levels …on the assumption that any project, issue, service or action will have some impact on the community. In the case of the 50m pool for ‘the removal of a shire wide service/provision of a regional facility the Level of impact is 4: MODERATE – HIGH and requires Collaboration - ‘To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.

If Council adhered to their own CEF/CEC, stakeholders of the Batemans Bay pool would have been asked to collaborate with Council about the size of the lap pool planned for the aquatic center. Yet pool stakeholders were the very people Council chose to ignore, even though a 25m pool will limit/exclude stakeholder groups and individuals who currently use the 50m pool.

Over the last 9 months, after requests for documents, phone calls and emails, a continuing social media campaign, conversations with aquatic construction companies, presentations to Council, discussions with some Councillors and members of the public, conversations with pool stakeholders, radio/newspaper interviews, a Public Meeting, Pack the Pool and Pack the Gallery, letters to the Editor, we continue to hear the Mayor, General Manager, Council Directors and staff deny they did not properly consult pool stakeholders. They do admit that ‘they knew the 25m pool would not be accepted’, insisting the existing pool needs demolishing, yet keeping an engineer’s report secret from the public and continuing with an indefensible decision to remove an important public infrastructure valued by the community. Furthermore, Council’s only response to community concern is that pool stakeholders will just ‘adapt’ to a 25m pool.

A recent impassioned plea by a community member to Council, for the Mayor, General Manger, Councillors and staff to take note of the cautionary tale of the Griffith community has fallen on deaf ears. Since Griffith Council voted for and replaced a 50m pool with a 25m pool the community is still angry and Councillors regret making the decision that has left Griffith with 25m pool that is a white elephant. Repeated requests to Council for answers to 17 questions asked in the weeks following a Public Meeting on 15th February, have only just been given, with nothing more than Council’s propaganda that reinforces the failed engagement process and justifies the removal of the 50m pool.

That the Mayor, General Manager, Directors and Council staff in the least ignored, at worst determined not to comply, with their own Community CEF/CEC shows contempt for their own guidelines and shows contempt for the community.

Why does Eurobodalla Council have a CEF/CEC if they are not going to follow it? Why exclude stakeholders who, in Council’s own words, will be moderately to highly impacted by the removal of the 50m pool? Why not partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution in decisions about the 50m pool?

Maureen Searson

Fight for Batemans Bays 50m Pool

#Opinion #BatemansBay