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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

What a nasty mess we have

In thirty years I have never seen the council sink to such low points and I wonder who or what is responsible. Let's have a look at the Mackay Park Project as an prime example. They never told the Batemans Bay people they were getting rid of their 50m pool. "What they said was we are buying the old Bowling Club and ask the community what do you want there". The Indoor Aquatic people wanted a small heated pool and they thought that it was going to go there. The arts people wanted a space and they thought it was going to go there. And nobody had any idea that the council had another idea. It turns out that they had a very big idea that they didn't tell anyone until one day at an extraordinary meeting that announced that to 50m pool was going to go and be replaced by a 25m pool and that there would be a separate heated pool and a performance space in a new building WHERE THE 50m pool is. They lied about consultation around the removal of the 50m pool when they said they "sought letters of support" because they never told any of those groups their intention to get rid of the 50m pool. "Do you support an Aquatic Centre?". Yes. Since that day they have continued to treat the community and councillors like idiots as they plot their Big Plan. What is the big plan? They bought the old Bowling Club for far too much money and thought they would become developers and rope some private partnership in to build a complex that had a bus station, tourist information, conference centre and meeting rooms on the ground floor and seniors accommodation above. But first they had to change the category of the land to Operational which was important because it had a clause saying it was only to be used for recreation. Turns out there was no-one gullible enough to go into partnership with them to build the complex with Council putting no dollars in at all except to provide the land. The other negatives of the land being beside a swamp, a four lane highway, on a field of sand with a water table just below the surface and the coming of sea level rise added to the folly. It turns out that what they bought was a very expensive building that was of no use at all as it was filled with asbestos. About 50 tonne of asbestos containing materials including sheeting, pipes and guttering, was removed from the building and former bowling greens. Fortunately the RMS came along and said they needed the site for their new Batemans Bay bridge project sheds and agreed to remove the old club and all the asbestos at their cost and then rent the site for the next 5 years which will hopefully cover the costs of the interest that Council has to pay for the $2 million dollars they borrowed to buy the site. Meanwhile on the southern site this Council slowly and carefully worked out a way of getting rid of the Mini Golf. The Mini Golf with its big golf ball and skeleton head doesn't fit in with their "Gateway" vision. The said they bought the Bowling Club to build a "Gateway to the South Coast" building that would be an architectural marvel. Now they have move their "vision" south to the swimming pool site. Initially everything they wanted fitted on the site including the Mini Golf. Otium drew up a design that included everything except a 50m pool. They also prepared a business case but warned council that it was a thumbnail dipped in tar and that once they worked out what they wanted Council must draw up a new and more accurate business plan. The business plan they drafted was indicative only with estimated building costs, projected incomes, overheads and running costs. It came with a BIG disclaimer. But Council didn't like that plan and they called for three new plans to be drafted. The footprint of these plans grew and before we knew it the Mini Golf was gone... with its lease that goes out to 2022 to be bought out by Council at an undisclosed price. Councillors moved the staff report and that is that... no public consultation as it is an "operational matter" Council applied for a $26m grant to the NSW Government and provided their Financial statement along with the Otium business case that clearly advised it shouldn't be used for such an application. Council failed to get the grant. Funnily enough they haven't actually told the public this yet. Funnily enough Council spent considerable effort to block a Freedom of Information (GIPA) request by a member of the public to access that grant application. That GIPA request finally came through with the provision of two heavily redacted documents that revealed that Council had used the Otium Business case. It also redacted all the letters of support however they were obtained via another independent request and can be read HERE But HOORAY... the day was saved by the Member for Bega, Andrew Constance announcing that the $26m requested was being granted from the Regional Growth Fund instead. The Council then applied to the Federal Government under their Regional Development Fund for another $25m as the estimate for the new aquatic centre was now $51m. The outcome of that grant application is still unknown however what is know is that the Federal Government insisted (below) on a FULL Business case and that the project viability and sustainability would be investigated along with the applicant viability.

What this SHOULD mean is that they look at projected incomes, projected running costs and projected losses to determine if the facility is sustainable or whether it would contribute to an ongoing financial liability to ratepayers and what actions/contributions would be required to pay for any fiscal burden.

Meanwhile what we now know is that Council are intending, if required, to sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre to assist in covering costs and have stated that they can do so as it is operational land and therefore an operational matter. We also know that the preliminary geo-technical results of the project site indicate that the foundations will be more than complex and as such "Council will need more that $51m to build it" as stated by a Council employee who now denies having said that publicly.

So where does that leave us? Council had an architect draw up three concept plans that spread out to engulf the Mini Golf - the original 500 seat theatre was downsized to 350 at the stroke of a pen, the theatre space was separated into a stand alone building, there were pools that should have been indoors now outdoors and overall the three designs managed to cop a lot of flak from just about everybody. Council held information booths for the community to ask questions and became jaded with the community asking about parking for 220 cars when there was a 350 seat theatre. They became jaded when asked where the bus stops and bus parking was and why there was no loading zone and why there weren't any dimensions or adequate toilets for patron to the theatre and why the foyer was so small that would barely accommodate an interval crowd. Council also became jaded when they were continually asked where the 50m pool was with one councillor offering that Ian Thorpe only trained in a 25m pool so if it was good enough for a world champion it was certainly good enough for Batemans Bay. The Council continued to offer that the designated 50m pool for the shire was at Narooma and if people wanted to do lap swimming they could go there. The same applied to anyone who wanted to train with a coach and for the school swimming carnivals. Narooma was, according to the newly endorsed Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy, the designated Olympic Pool. The Council officers then became jaded when reminded that the "endorsed" Aquatic Strategy was written by the same consultant who designed the pool and that there had been no public consultation and that the process of justifying the removal of the 50m pool was a manipulation that came about when Councillors voted for the Southern Design Option that had a 25m pool they were also voting their approval that the Aquatic Strategy be approved at the exact same time. This will go down as one of the lowest acts this council has achieved. Pure unadulterated subterfuge of the community. So with all those jaded questions hopefully there were many jaded submissions made to Council's three concept plans and we now await the staff summary of the submissions and the resultant Concept #4 be presented by the architects that best represent the feedback. At some point they will/MUST prepare a FULL business plan and that business plan MUST be available for public scrutiny as it will be the community who will financially carry the burden of the project for the next fifty years. Of interest of late is Council's move to remove webcasting of the Public Forum sessions. This will mean that any and all community members who present, question and challenge council and councillors over the Mackay Park issue regarding design, costings or utilisation will not be recorded, nor will the responses of councillors be recorded and therefore not available, as they are today, for the public to access, consider or review. Should this be approved by the councillors it will then be the lowest point this council has ever sunk to.

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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