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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Regional pool issue becoming a thorn for Council

What appeared at first to be a great opportunity for Mayor Liz Innes and past Mayor Lindsay Brown to deliver a community request for a hydrotherapy pool and multi purpose performance space is turning into an issue that is becoming a thorn in their sides and revealing more than they ever intended. The first hint of concern came when it was discovered that Council staff and Councillors, without community consent, decided in a back room briefing to dump the already endorsed 2013 community choice to have the performance space and hydrotherapy pool at Hanging Rock. While it was formally endorsed by the Councillors in 2013 it appears that Council had other ideas. Three years later in 2016, under a veil of secrecy, Council bought the Bowling Club site. This site, due to the restriction imposed of recreational use only, meant that Council was pretty much the only possible buyer. The old bowling club site had been gifted to the community with a proviso it be used for recreation however, as soon as Council bought it they were able to overturn that proviso and reclassified the land as Operational thereby allowing them to be able to sell it to anyone without burden other than the Zoning allowances. Council played this card very well. With a poker face they appeared to show interest in transforming the site and old building into a community facility initially celebrating the purchase as a great opportunity and a Gateway to the town to accommodate all the community facilities that had long been asked for. They further pushed the subterfuge by engaging with the community for input into what they wanted to use the building for. Keen, enthusiastic groups came forward and suggested performance spaces, community spaces and a heated pool. Then it all started to develop a stench. When the community asked if they could begin to use the building the shields came up and they were quickly advised that the building was not fit for purpose. In less than 12 months a building that was mooted as a great community asset was basically condemned with no one allowed entry. The next the community hears is that Council have appointed a consultant to draw up concept plans for the Bowling Club site and Mackay Park precinct. Soon after the community, and the councillors, are presented with a choice of Options with the chosen Option made by the councillors of moving all of the identified facilities of performance space, meeting rooms, hydrotherapy pool and art gallery to the swimming pool site consolidating it all in a single building. The justification was that this would reduce operating costs. It was then that the community discovered that they would be losing their local 50m pool. On that same day that Council endorsed the option to build on the pool site they also, without anyone knowing it, endorsed a draft Aquatic Strategy written by the consultants that gave the Batemans Bay 50m pool the kiss of death. This Aquatic Strategy has NEVER been put out to pubic consultation. Why consolidate everything to the one site? Because Council owns that land. By consolidating it all they are then able to sell the Bowling Club site. That site is now leased to the RMS for the next four years or so at a suggested rental of $80,000 per year which hopefully is servicing the $2m loan Council took out to buy the land. At the end of the bridge project the land will be returned to Council totally vacant and ready for sale which they have now indicated as their private/public partnership to build seniors accommodation and conference centre has failed to find anyone interested. The bottom line is that the purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club might well have been a part of a bigger game of chess being played by Council to finally see the aging 50m pool removed and to move what had originally been endorsed at Hanging Rock (being a hydrotherapy 25m pool and performance space) to Mackay Park while allowing them to speculate with the bowling club site. All the hydrotherapy people wanted was a pool, a 25m pool at Hanging Rock. All the PerFex people wanted was a multipurpose space and Hanging Rock was perfect. Council, in endorsing the Hanging Rock project in 2013 forecast that there would be a considerable increase in traffic and as a result they put in a four lane roundabout on Beach Road in readiness. The Beagle understands that it is the opinion of a councillor and also a senior Council staff member that Hanging Rock was taken off the "books" because of the cost of relocating the tennis courts elsewhere in the Hanging Rock Precinct. It is now wondered whether the payout to the Mini Golf for closing them down before their lease expires compares. When asked today by the Bay Post "What is going to happen to the Mini Golf?" the Mayor responded with “If you have a look at the different concepts, unfortunately, the whole space will be needed to accommodate the arts and aquatic space.” “In the initial phase, it will have to go because of construction. Then there’s the space issue. The council is in negotiations with the owners – I can’t go into details about that, it’s between the Mini Golf and the council.”​ Inevitably it will cost Council and the ratepayers to buy out the lease. Has Council factored that buy out in the $51m for the project or will it come from general revenue? Council has openly stated it will sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre and the Batemans Bay Visitor Centre and move both of these into the Mackay Park Centre. What is becoming evident is that there might only be one or more in Council who actually know where this is all going and there is no doubt at all that the councillors are very much kept in the dark. When asked questions they simply don't have any answers and it's not that they are gagged. They really have no idea and actually admit to reading the Beagle to learn what is going on. With continued backroom secrecy and double speak, along with all of the leaks, conjecture and hearsay about Mackay Park major cracks are beginning to reveal themselves, leading to factionalism within Council over theatre sizes, pool facilities, parking and finances whilst all trying to hunker down and safeguard the consistency of the message being delivered by staff and councillors to the community. Fortunately the right hand often doesn't know what the left is doing and they let slip that there is chaos building in the ranks. Once the Business Plan that Council has provided to both the Department of Sport and the Federal Government are obtained (a third party is currently blocking the requests) there will be more clarity around what figures Council has provided and if in fact the $51 million facility will be affordable without a need for Council to go to another rate rise. As it stands Otium already advise that there will be a loss of $2m per year that will need to be found - that represents $78 per rateable property. Just to cover the minimum anticipated loss projected for the next ten years. Without doubt the councillors (and the community) need to see all of the financials in detail prior to committing the community to this project. Any Councillor who endorses the concept plans that will be presented to them as a recommendation by staff MUST only do so if they are absolutely convinced that the estimates and projections are in order for to vote to adopt any plan that further burdens the community without full explanation to the community and with their consent would be irresponsible and a political folly.

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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