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An open letter to Ann Sudmalis from Our Town Our Say

Dear Ms Sudmalis,

The local community group Our Towns Our Say (OTOS) wishes to add its thanks and congratulations to those of others in the Eurobodalla Shire (Batemans Bay, specifically) for your role in the support and approval of a $25 million federal grant of taxpayer funds, towards the total cost of the planned new facility at MacKay Park. To say that you were present at the old pool on April 1, only to “deliver money – not politics”, is a statement that only the naive in the community would readily accept. It would be very surprising if you arrived at the light-hearted cheque handover ceremony, totally unaware of the dissent, division, controversy and politicking that has accompanied this project from the outset.

Your reported statement on that day, that the Federal Government was bound to follow the State Government in specifying that the granted funds be only applied to a 25 metre pool solution, ignores what many in this community are used to, want and need – a 50 metre pool! Your further statement, that Mr Lindsay Usher - Director of Planning and Sustainability Services at Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC), is the person that we have to convince for a 50 metre pool, also ignores the chequered history of this project under the ESC stewardship. Perhaps you are unaware of that? Very recently, Councillor Lindsay Brown, in the Beagle, refuted our suggestion that a senior ESC staff member was responsible for the unpopular decision to scrap the 50 metre pool. In a foolish demonstration of self-aggrandisement, Councillor Brown stated that: “We, the Council and not an individual Councillor or staff, have collectively and unanimously decided to build a 25m pool along with the other facilities at Mackay Park......” OTOS remains unconvinced, having heard direct statements elsewhere, to the contrary. Councillor Brown did not match his recent statement with an invitation for us to meet with his comrades to discuss alternative solutions or to review their decision. Ms Sudmalis, a very unhappy situation has arisen here, in part, due to the following matters of fact (an exhaustive list would fill many, many pages): 1. The fact that Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC), driven by senior directors such as Messrs Usher and Sharpe, made a decision behind closed doors in 2015/2016, that the existing 50 metre Olympic swimming pool would neither be repaired nor replaced as part of plans for the new Regional Aquatic & Arts/Cultural Precinct at Mackay Park (note the bolded emphasis). 2. The fact that the ESC then solicited letters of support from local groups and individuals for the planned new facility, without advising them beforehand that their much-loved and well-used 50 metre pool would not form part of the new facility (note the bolded emphasis – they were asked to support something that was misrepresented). When it was later revealed that this would be the case, most of the former supporters withdrew their support, especially swimming and other sporting clubs and public schools. 3. The fact that Councillors, at a meeting of Council on 29 August 2017, were “railroaded” into accepting one of two Otium Planning Group options for the redevelopment of MacKay Park, neither of which retained a 50 metre pool. Neither was a proper business case presented. The excuse given for their hasty and ill-informed decision process on that day, aided and abetted by over-eager Council directors with their own agenda, was that there was great time pressure to submit the requisite grant applications to fund the development, to the tune of $46.3 million. 4. The fact that one of the ESC grant applications, to the NSW Regional Sports and Infrastructure Fund for $28.3 million, was clearly rejected because what was proposed was not a sporting facility, with only a 25 metre pool. Fortunately, Mayor Liz Innes was lucky enough to find favour with the state member for Bega, Andrew Constance MP, to make up the shortfall through a politically convenient grant from the NSW Budget in advance of the State Election, thereby greatly increasing his and the Premier’s profile during a whistlestop visit here on 26 March last year. The Mayor also traded on the popularity of the Premier and Andrew Constance over that event. Her infamous Mayoral Minute on the matter was a disgrace. Fast forward to today, where we find that the ESC has banked $51 million of Federal and State funding, giving this shire $4.7 million more than they budgeted for MacKay Park, yet the ESC stubbornly refuses to reconsider or revisit the inclusion of a 50 metre pool in the new complex. Even Andrew Constance has stated that he is prepared to work with us, encouraging us to keep advocating for a 50 metre pool, as he is also unhappy, as many residents will be, at the prospect of having to drive his children to an Olympic pool at Narooma in the future when the existing pool at Batemans Bay is destroyed. Space is not a problem now as it was quoted then. This is because our very popular and iconic Mini-Golf facility has also fallen prey to ESC plans for MacKay Park. It must also be destroyed or relocated, if the owners can afford a suitable site. OTOS was respectful in not proposing to encroach on that facility when submitting alternate draft plans in 2017, showing how a 50 metre pool could fit. We were ridiculed by ESC, saying that there wasn’t enough room. Now, amazingly, there is! It’s Beyond Wonderful, one might say, but certainly deceptive in outlook, approach and planning. Now we are expecting a so-called Option “D” from the architects, following recent unpopular exposure of and public surveys on Options A, B & C, each of which would see the Mini-Golf centre removed. We are informed that Option “D” will include provision for a “future-proofed” 50 metre pool, according to Lindsay Usher. We expect that provision to be nothing more than unfunded “dotted lines on a piece of paper”. Please forgive us for our scepticism.

  • How much will it cost residents to compensate the owners of Mini Golf for premature cancellation of their lease and possible relocation?

  • How much unnecessary future waste will be created, if/when the planned new aquatic complex has to be shut down and rebuilt to encompass a 50 metre pool?

  • Why not build it properly at the outset, in an environment where government funding for this shire is at an all-time high, boosted by two imminent elections, both proposing extreme largesse using public funds, and one already having “brought home the bacon” for NSW?

We are quite sure that the new Liberal candidate for Gilmore in the forthcoming Federal Election, will remind voters in this shire of the role that you and your colleagues played in gaining part of the MacKay Park funding – so of course the recent oversized cheque presentation ceremony did have a political outcome in mind. It would be fanciful to claim otherwise. This shire has already had the benefit of a dip into the Federal pork barrel for the 2019 Election, so we would not expect a second opportunity.

  • Could you therefore please advise the source of your information that allowed you to state on 1 April, that a majority on the recent council surveys confirmed that only a 25 metre pool is required for Batemans Bay?

  • Could you also please advise how you came to be in possession of that survey information, when the community and elected councillors have been advised not to expect the results of the surveys before June of this year? and;

  • Could you also confirm that you have sighted or at least, have been given a summary of the Business Plan for MacKay Park, that we understand was required to accompany the application for federal funding?

Noting your advice, to “talk to Director Usher, rather than you” on these matters, we wish to advise that despite megabytes and reams of digital and analogue correspondence between OTOS and the ESC between 2016 and today, the ESC (including its directors) demonstrates disdain for the community when questions are asked on controversial issues. Stonewalling is the norm here. The General Manager of ESC, Dr Catherine Dale, in particular, prefers to spread a cloak of secrecy and confidentiality over much of the information to which community members should reasonably have a right of access. Recourse to GIPA is often required, in order to get even basic information, particularly when it comes to the funding of MacKay Park. Dr Dale supports a recent decision by Lindsay Usher, for him not to attend further meetings of the Batemans Bay Indoor Aquatic Centre Committee (a group whose aims we support) if members of OTOS (some of whom were formerly the “Fight For Batemans Bay 50m Pool” group), are also present. Clearly, council staff are uncomfortable facing their constituents to answer questions that concern the community, preferring instead, to consult only with select groups of supporters. What kind of Democracy is that? The next ominous development with regard to democracy and council business here, stems from Dr Dale’s latest recommendation to change the current ESC meeting practice, so as to remove currently-provided video live streaming of the Public Forum that forms part of council meetings. We hope that the community will express its disgust for her sly proposal and that councillors will vote “No”, to protect the community’s right-to-know. Our scepticism meter is also running on high around this development. To summarise; there is a large debt of gratitude to you and to the Federal Government for the funds that have been secured, however there remain some key questions around the manner of its application and granting. We do wish you well as you depart the political scene after many years of public service to Gilmore and the Eurobodalla, but before you go, we hope that you can cast light on recent events, in the interests of better public understanding and trust. We look forward to your timely response, please. Our Towns Our Say

#Opinion #LocalStateFederal #Federal #Council

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