Just last year Eurobodalla Council determined that it would build a new Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre on the southern end of the Mackay Park site in Batemans Bay.
To apply for grants from the NSW and Australian governments to build the centre, Council developed a preliminary concept and business case for a $46 million development that they claim to be affordable. Council resolved to apply for funding to develop an indoor year round aquatic centre which they said would replace the existing 50-metre outdoor pool with multiple, purpose-built aquatic spaces, and an arts centre. In their submission they stated that the preliminary concept and business case includes:
"An aquatic centre with a 25-metre, ten-lane pool with ramp access, separate 10m warm-water therapy pool and spa, freeform indoor leisure pool, that includes learn-to-swim and toddler areas, water-play splash pad, waterslides, gym, group fitness and wellness area, amenities, an arts and cultural centre with a large flexible, flat floor auditorium with retractable seating for up to 500 people, dressing rooms, green room and storage, gallery/exhibition space and storage, rehearsal/ dance studio/ music room, 'wet' arts workshop space and storage (for pottery, painting, etc), 'dry' arts workshop space and storage (for drawing, textiles, etc), meeting and multi-purpose rooms and amenities.
Shared facilities including a foyer, café, visitor information service and associated retail (relocated from existing Visitor Info Centre and Community Centre), administration offices, and plant and support services." The Aquatic and Arts/ Cultural Precinct Business Case developed by Council’s contractor was “aimed at meeting the Business Plan requirements of a NSW Government PPP Stage 1 report and/ or positioning Council to seek funding from other levels of government.” The following tables detail the Option 1 projected 10-year operating performance, visitations and net contribution by main activity area.
Council state that the key business and operating assumptions above are based on a combination of Otium Planning Group team experience, case study research outcomes, benchmarking of other facilities in similar population areas, CERM19 Benchmarks and information provided by Council. Below are a detailed breakdown of operating projections by Otium as part of the Stage one submission for the grant. Be sure to have a good read of each element and jot down any points that you might feel are questionable.
Above: Appendix 7: Financial Modelling Assumptions – Design Option 1 The key operating assumptions for Option 1 facility development are summarised in the above table. Source At a Community Meeting held on 17th November, 2017 Minister Constance suggested that Council ‘review’ its costings and report back to him and the community. Of concern at the time was the fact that the only “business plan” is that put forward by Otium and that a more detailed business plan of affordability was required long before committing the community to a facility it could not afford Prior to the announced “gift” of $26m from the Regional Building Fund announced in March this year by the Premier and the Member for Bega all that was known was that, should the project make it through Stage 1 of the application from the Regional Sports and Infrastructure Fund Grant application then, the next criteria to be met and fully expanded and explored would be Affordability as per the statement from the Regional Sports and Infrastructure Fund Grant website: “All proposals need to demonstrate affordability of the project relative to the available funding, taking into account net lifecycle costs, and allowing for ongoing operating and maintenance requirements. This also includes an assessment of a range of fundamental project planning requirements. The assessment focuses on the robustness of the project cost planning, including if the funding is for a new or existing asset, how detailed and realistic the budget is, if other funding has been secured, and if the nominating organisation has an existing plan and budget in place to manage project costs. The organisation must also have the capacity and financial sustainability to fund and manage ongoing operation and maintenance of the infrastructure over its lifetime.” Minister Constance was well aware of these conditions which saw him, in November 2017, suggest that Council ‘review’ its costings and report back to him and the community. On November 18th, 2017 the Bay Post reported that: “Infrastructure Minister and Bega MP Andrew Constance chaired a charged meeting about the proposed Batemans Bay indoor aquatic centre on November 17.
Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes and Councillor Rob Pollock attended the meeting at the Batemans Bay Community Centre with groups including the Batemans Bay Indoor Aquatic Center committee, Eurocoast Triathlon Club, and Fight for Batemans Bay’s 50m pool."
Council has not, as yet, prepared that requested detailed costings plan which would drill down into the real numbers and more accurately forecast who will pass through turnstiles, the real labour required and costed and provide a break down of all overhead costs, the real maintenance and depreciation on the building and machinery and most importantly quantify the real returns expected from the facility over its economic age. By Otium’s own figures in the tables above they suggest that the new aquatic facility will have 276,000 visitors to the complex per annum (that is 756 people per day, every day) ,128,000 visitors to the pool per annum (that is 350 people per day, every day)… and they estimate 38,000 people per year to the theatre (740 per week) yet the space has the capacity for only 500. Following the resignation in Novemeber 2017 of Batemans Bay Business and Tourism Chamber President David Maclachlan from Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Sunset Committee saying “I am gobsmacked exhibitions and events have not been included” and also saying the project consultant lacked “expertise in multi-purpose arts venues and design rigour … it is no surprise the current design and concept contains the same known mistakes encountered by other local shire run venues” we are no closer to having any evidence that the performance space proposed is more than a tacked on afterthought. Mr Maclachlan said at the time that meetings were “orchestrated” to satisfy “community consultative requirements” and feared the project would become “a white elephant”. In a media release issued this week by Dr Susan Mackenzie, President PerfEx Performance Exhibitions Lobby Group they challenge Council that "as a group they are ARTS focussed and the media release certainly focuses on the pool facility with barely a mention of the Arts section, yet again." "We have concerns of the Arts facility being ‘tacked on’ and would seek your assurance that this will not be the case. We are aware that this is a very sporting community, and that the pool is a familiar physical entity, easily accessible and common, so easily able to focus on. And a great asset. "We also understand that this community has not had a central arts facility previously and so may not yet realise the worth of it to a community (prestige, inspiration, community pride, investment and business values etc), but we are hopeful that the council is aware of these aspects, and values them. We see our role, in part, to educate and encourage the community to understand the value of the ARTS as a community focus. We seek your support in doing this. "One way of doing this is to give equal or significant focus in all media releases to the Arts facility, so that the community sees the project as a parallel endeavour and the ARTS valued at all stages. We request this to be the case in future, please."
The Bay Post also reported in November 2017 that Cr Innes said a future private sector events and convention centre was also possible on the former bowling club site. However, she said her major concern was that whatever was built was not a burden for future ratepayers.
“We have to live within our means. We all have wants and aspirations, but in the cold light of day, our community has to be able to afford it and afford it going forward,” she said.
“The state government is not going to give money to anyone if it is going to be a burden on their community.
“We have heard loudly and clearly that we do not want to see the aquatic and arts and cultural centre come off the back of a rate increase in Eurobodalla.”
Then, in a tabled Mayoral Minute of March 27th, 2018 Mayor Liz Innes said: “On 26 March 2018, the Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP and the Member for Bega, the Hon. Andrew Constance MP announced that Eurobodalla Shire Council was successful in receiving funding of $26m to go towards the construction of the Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre at Mackay Park, Batemans Bay. Council has a strong business case for the concept plan developed by Otium Planning Group, industry leaders in the planning and development of aquatic facilities. The business case is also supported by expert advice in the provision and operation of arts facilities. It demonstrates how the concept plan meets a broad range of community needs as expressed by the community, in accordance with best practice trends and based on the population characteristics of the community. The business case is supported by quantity surveying advice from Turner and Townsend, who again are leaders in their field and highly respected by governments. The business case demonstrates that we can build the Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre for approximately $46m and the ongoing operational costs over ten years are affordable. How much will the centre cost to build and operate? The concept plan has been costed by expert quantity surveyors Turner and Townsend and the operating performance has been modelled by Otium Planning Group. The capital cost to construct the facility, based on the endorsed concept plan, is approximately $46m. Council has applied for grant funding from both the NSW and Australian Governments through various funding streams to facilitate the construction of the whole of the centre. Thanks to the NSW Government we are now more than half way to this goal. Should the total funding received be less than $46m, Council will consider how best to stage the construction of the facility so that the whole of the centre can be provided over time. More important than the capital construction cost is the ongoing operational cost over time. While grant funding will be used to build the facility, rates and other Council revenue will be used to operate the facility. The operational costs must be affordable as I will not support a facility that requires a rate rise in order to be affordable.” “We have considered the characteristics of our population, taken independent expert advice, reviewed the nature and condition of existing facilities, visited other similar facilities and taken on board the views and advice of those facilities’ managers. We have also been very mindful of the capacity of our community to pay for any new facilities. Having done this, we have a proposed concept which responds to the highest priority needs to our community in a financially responsible manner.”
So here we are with architects now appointed and pencils at the ready to design a facility that has, as yet, no hard cash on the table, a promissory note of $26m, a pie in the sky hope of $10m from the Federal Government leaving a $10m gap for what is anticipated as a $46m project with Councillors adamant they will not be putting any ratepayers money it however not dismissing that they won't take out an inter-generational loan with TCORP for $10m taking it on to the current TCORP loan of $2m they took out to buy the now White Elephant Bowling Club site. The displeasure around the lack of explanation for the purchase of that site that will long remain as Council remains tight lipped however the purchase did result in Council being able to effectively, with the stroke of a pen, classify the land as operational discharging its recreational status and thereby make it a saleable property for non-recreational development. Well played. The new Mackay Park leisure pool complex with "its undefined, less than satisfactory tacked on performance space" is however to be built by a five lane freeway, on the wrong side of town, adjacent to an ex-bowling club site that has no vision, no design nor any idea of function as Council have not been able to secure a Private Public Partnership, instead agreeing, it appears, behind closed doors, to sell the site after the RMS finish constructing the Batemans Bay Bridge and hoping that the constraining conditions they will impose on the land will direct the vision they might have for what they continue to call the "Gateway to Batemans Bay" . Being in the wrong location will impact on the leisure centre's utilisation and its financial viability, keeping in mind the financial model is reliant on 276,000 visitors to the pool per annum (that is 756 people per day, every day) . Those figures are becoming more than questionable and to have them in black and white in a business plan forecasting income over a ten year period is more than worthy of further investigation. This week we heard from the Premier that they needed to "time to take a breather" in regards to immigration in NSW and its impact on housing. Maybe it is time for our own councillors to stop and take a breather as well. For one reason or another it still remains unexplained why they dropped the original intention of 2013, just five years ago, of having the aquatic centre at Hanging Rock Before we move ahead at a rapid rate of knots with the Mackay Park project that is smelling more and more like a dirty nappy can we just stop for a minute and ask a few questions. How did it come to be that the aquatic and performance centre is to be located where it is. If they are going to remove the 50m pool and remove everything to a green field site than there is nothing to gain by having the pool there. Simply because that is where the pool has always been doesn't wash. The same can be said of the old Bowling Club site that will also be flattened.Has anyone actually asked who decided to put the aquatic centre on the wrong side of a four lane highway well away from schools and residential areas? Looking at all the council records there is no evidence of consultation or even discussion. Somebody just decided. Who and when is unknown. In 2012, Council commissioned a survey of Eurobodalla Shire residents and rate payers in relation to long-term financial planning. The survey of 400 people found that 61% of residents and 52% of non-resident ratepayers indicated that it was very important, to at least somewhat important, that a regional aquatic facility is built in the next ten years. It has been confirmed that those called were NOT asked if they would accept the exisiting 50m pool in Mackay Park being removed. The wording of the question was to establish an inclination towards a regional aquatic centre being built. The Aquatic Centre on the table was at Hanging Rock (plan and details below).
The components of the proposed aquatic centre was not described and at no point was it conveyed that such a centre would only have a 25m pool to replace the existing 50m town pool. The survey of 400 people also found that 55% of residents and 51% of non-resident ratepayers indicated that it was very important, to at least somewhat important, that a regional performing arts centre be built in the next ten years. Some Background that ties to this period in time PerFEX NEWSLETTER NO. 19 OCTOBER 2012 In our last newsletter we stated that the original Hanging Rock project using an architecture firm had been cancelled. The Council decided that the new approach would be for a study to be taken first as to the needs of various existing and potential users and recommendations made as to which facilities will be included. The agreed recommendations will then be passed to a new firm of architects to produce a Hanging Rock plan. The consultant chosen to conduct the first exercise is Kym Shilton who is a director of Montemare, a business and leisure consultancy. The study is in two parts -discussions with the users of Hanging Rock and secondly a telephone based household survey (random sample of 400) which will seek the views of the public on what facilities they would like to see there. The meeting was chaired by returning Councillor Rob Pollock. He apologised for what he termed had been a “wasted 18 months”and also stated that at the moment, nothing was either in or out of the Hanging Rock complex; in other words, Council has no pre-determined plans. Present at the meeting were representatives on behalf of the tennis, soccer, swimming, yachting and rugby union clubs, the basketball court, the Marine Rescue Patrol centre, the aquatic centre lobby group and the Wollongong University campus. In a meeting lasting 2 hours each was given time to state what their aim for Hanging Rock was. (It was interesting that the Aquatic centre group was proposing a 25m indoor pool but the Swimming club insisted on a 50m pool.) In 2013, Council exhibited options for aquatic, preforming arts and community arts facilities at Hanging Rock. Council received 370 submissions from the community. While the largest number of submissions supported only aquatic and other recreation and sports facilities at Hanging Rock, many submissions acknowledged the importance of arts and cultural facilities to the community and that these facilities should be provided at a location other than Hanging Rock MINUTE NO 13/259 O13/ 145 HANGING ROCK MASTER PLAN AND BUSINESS PLAN E10.448013/259 MOTION Councillor Pollock/Councillor Leslight THAT Council: 1.Receive and note the report titled Hanging Rock Master Plan and Business Plan and associated attachment. 2.Proceed with an amendment to the Hanging Rock Plan of Management to reflect Council’s endorsed concept plan for the site as adjusted for detailed survey and design. 3.As part of the September financial review Council consider funding for a temporary project manager to oversight preparation of tender documents and calling of tenders for the preparation of detailed architectural plans, estimates of cost and business plans for stages 1 & 2 of option 2 –no arts model, which includes the following components: (a) Stage 1 -Outdoor Sport Fields and Tennis Centre –realign sports fields to new configurations, new access and carparking and re-instate remote control car areas.New tennis courts, tennis club rooms, access and carparking. (b)Stage 2 - New Indoor Aquatic Leisure Facilities –leisure pool, new program pool, spa and sauna, 25 metre pool, health and fitness, wellness/retail, multi-purpose/community rooms associated amenities and support facilities, village green and partial carparking. 4.Council consider funding for the completion of detailed architectural plans in the 2014/15 operations plan based on the tenders received to develop this project to a shovel ready state. (The Motion on being put was declared CARRIED.) The Hanging Rock Roundabout - if you build it they will come: In the ESC Future Transport Plan document that provided recommendations for transport related upgrades and mitigation in the future years of 2020 and 2030 within the study area for the Northern Area of Eurobodalla Shire it was noted that Hanging Rock Reserve had been identified as a regional sporting facility with many new facilities planned and as such there would be an increased demand for movements in/out of Hanging Rock Place. That document recommended the installation of a two lane roundabout at this junction. This sounds more than familiar with Council's recent justification for seeking intersection capacity improvements at Beach Road and the highway highlighting the fact that the Mackay Park precinct project will dramatically increase vehicle movements by up to 750 movements per day. But none of this progressed. What happened? Why was the plan moved from Hanging Rock to Mackay Park in a flood zone? Who made the decision? How was that decision made? When was it made? Why do we now have an aquatic centre coupled with an arts/cultural centre that no one is entirely happy with in the wrong location? Where are the town planners in all of this? And where are the REAL costings and financial plans? Without all of the above being considered and the long term impact of servicing what is looking more and more like the “white elephant” predicted by the Batemans Bay Business and Tourism Chamber President David Maclachlan one wonders if it will see a Special Rates Variation applied for keeping in mind the Mayor gave an assurity that there would be no SRV in this term of Council that only has two years to run And should the inevitable SRV not be allowed then what impact will a $46m elephant demanding of funds with an as yet unmeasured impact have on a community that is made up predominantly by fixed income residents.