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More community backlash for Council over proposed sale of Batemans Bay Community Centre

At Council's upcoming meeting on Tuesday May 28th Councillor Anthony Mayne will submit a petition with over 1000 signatures indicating concerns for the future of the Batemans Bay Community Centre putting forward a motion that a decision on the Batemans Bay Community Centre be deferred until the capital and operation costs for the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre have been determined. The General Manager, Catherine Dale has stated that Council has not made a decision to sell the existing BBCC. It has been identified that it could possibly be sold or leased, to offset construction and/or ongoing operational costs associated with the proposed Batemans Bay Aquatics, Arts and Leisure Centre BBAALC. The General Manager has also advised in writing that she "cannot give you any long term assurance on the future of the Batemans Bay Community Centre (BBCC), other than that which I have previously provided – namely that Council has not made any long term decisions," adding "The BBCC will need to remain open to the community until the new Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre (AALC) is constructed and operational. Maintaining the existing facility would duplicate functions and add operational costs while removing potential sale or lease options, including the revenue arising from such. This would have the effect of inadvertently increasing the operational cost of the AALC and deprive that centre of a potential source of income, therefore compromising its affordability, including the theatre." In a nutshell. Unless the community agrees to give up its Community Centre with halls, meeting rooms and commercial kitchen and move across to the meeting room we have given you in the new aquatic centre which we will charge out at market rates then that will "deprive that centre of a potential source of income, therefore compromising its affordability, including the theatre." . Meanwhile the 1000 + petitioners are outraged. In a letter to the Beagle it is clear that there is disharmony building in the Batemans Bay community around the revelation of what Council intends. "No-one asked us, arguing that part of the Mackay Park proposal by Otium consultants was that the Batemans Bay Community Centre be sold off to pay for the new facility’s (Pool and Arts centre) operating costs. "These were the very same consultants who drafted the Eurobodalla Aquatic Strategy that said only Narooma would have a 50m pool in the shire and that there was no justification for a 25m pool in Batemans Bay. That Strategy was adopted by Eurobodalla Councillors with NO public consultation at all. "Did the community have a say? ..... NO "

Above: Councillor Anthony Mayne says that he is looking forward to hearing from the presenters to next Tuesday's Council meeting when the 1000+ petition is to be tabled. He notes "Ironically, this is the very type of debate which will No longer be live streamed or recorded under the proposed changes to the Councils Public Forums." The General Manager has stated that the issue around the future sale of the Batemans Bay Community Centre (BBCC), together with a number of other variables, will need to be taken into account when Council ultimately considers the long term future of the BBCC advising that this includes revisiting the original rationale provided in the Otium business case. The General Manager remains adamant that that a full business case is, and has been, available on Council’s web site for some considerable time offering up the Otium Business Case that has been widely revealed as flawed in its attendance assumptions and income projections. The Business case the General Manager insist on as still being relevant is over two years old written for a building that has been redesigned thrice over with the latest version yet to be revealed along with the costings and projections for that design. Of equal concern is the General Managers comment (May 17th, 2019) around the financial as being "It is important to note that the funding that Council has secured for the new BBAALC, is for the capital component of the project; all ongoing operational costs must be found within existing Council financial resources," yet, the report to Council this coming Tuesday (Agenda for the 28/5/2019 Council meeting) Catherine Dale states “ It has been identified that it could possibly be sold or leased, to offset construction and/or ongoing operational costs associated with the proposed Aquatics, Arts and Leisure Centre. The question remains then "Which is it? Is Council's intent to sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre for capital costs or ongoing operational costs . Is this a revelation that Council is planning not to stay within the $51m budget after all? For many in Batemans Bay and the wider community it is clearly emerging that Council is focusing on Mackay Park Centre as a theatre venue. It was particularly noted in the Mayor's media release of 19 Feb 2019 that she makes NO mention of visual arts spaces, e.g. galleries and workshop areas, and the concept plans show negligible accommodation of these. "and on the arts side, we’ll have a 350-seat theatre, dance and rehearsal studios and community meeting rooms to complete the centre." Mayor Liz Innes Feb 19th 2019 It remains a curiosity of Council's intention to go with the idea of a 350 seat theatre when even Council's much lauded Financial Plan by Otium recommended a 500 seat theatre to make it financially viable. How did it come to Council being able to sell the community centre with little if any consultation with the community? On the 31st of May, 2012 Council undertook ‘a reclassification of a portion of Lot 101 DP1001026’ that the Centre stands on as part of the amended Eurobodalla Local Environment Plan (Amendment Number 3). It is understood that during the reign of General Manager Paul Anderson (2008 to 2012) there had been approaches made to Council by a local Employment Agency to lease the Community Centre Building. Though this did not go through Council saw the potential and moved to reclassify part of the land that the building occupies as Operational. The current General Manager, Catherine Dale, advises that "the subsequent planning proposal sought to realign the community and operational boundary over the land for the purpose of leasing or selling the operational portion of the property and retaining the remainder of the property as community land" adding that "This was supported by a public hearing and a subsequent independent report recommending the reclassification of the land." Unfortunately all searches of the Council's website returned no information at all of any record of this public hearing nor of any Amendment No.3 that the General Manager makes reference to. The only reference to any ELEP modifications to Lot 101 DP1001026 was its change to allow buildings with a height of 15m (Note: This lot previously had a 14m height limit under the Batemans Bay Town Centre DCP) under Amendment No. 7. For the sake of clarity:

Operational Land Is land owned by Council that is not intended for public access and use.​ Operational land would ordinarily comprise land held as a temporary asset or is an investment, land which facilitates the carrying out by a council of its functions or land which may not be open to the general public, such as a works depot or a council garage.This does not seem to fit the description of the present Community Centre and its uses. Community land is land intended for public access and use. To prevent alienation of this land, it cannot be sold, leased, licensed or any other estate granted over the land for more than 21 years. General Community Use is a category of land that should be applied where the land may be available for use for any purpose for which community land may be used, whether by the public at large or by specific sections of the public. It includes land that does not fall into the categories of natural area, sports ground, park or area of cultural significance. Mackay Park for example, where the Aquatic and Cultural Centre is to replace the existing pool, is Community Land. Council intends to lease the cafe and gymnasium and is able to do so without reclassifying it as Operational. All of the community halls owned by Council with the exception of the Batemans Bay Community Centre are classified Community. Of importance here is that any asset owned by the Council and classified Operational, as is the case with the BBCC can be sold with little if any consultation. It is not surprising then that within months of the purchase of the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site Council moved swiftly to classify it as Operational in July 2012 saying: Council is not proposing to ‘change’ the classification of the former bowling club land from Community land to Operational land. It presently has no classification, as it has been privately owned and under the Local Government Act must be classified as either community or operational land within three months of acquisition. That is the reason for classification. Through previous resolutions of Council in relation to the future use of the precinct and the call for preliminary expressions of interest from experienced developers, Council is anticipating interest in a mix of community and private sector uses within the precinct. These include (but are not limited to) a mix of development outcomes including conference or convention facilities, tourism accommodation, arts and culture or cinema centre, seniors living, restaurants or café, tourism and recreational facilities and upgrade of the aquatic centre. Operational classification will provide the certainty required to maintain private sector interest and involvement in the master planning and redevelopment of the precinct. A classification of community land would necessitate a Plan of Management that would need to categorise the land and be very specific about any leases or licences that could be granted on the site. A classification of community land would also place additional restrictions on the length of leases that could be granted and the procedures for granting longer term leases. The proposed classification as operational land is considered appropriate. Other community facilities on operational land within the Shire include the Batemans Bay Community Centre, Batemans Bay Historical Museum, Moruya Racecourse, Batemans Bay library and Moruya library. The General Manager has recently given an assurance in writing that "No agreements have been reached nor entered into, with any person or body (including IRT) re the future use of the BBCC. Council when making decisions regarding the long term future of the BBCC and the proposed AALC, will consider community needs and overall operational costs to ensure a financially sustainable outcome." adding "It is important to note that the funding that Council has secured for the new AALC, is for the capital component of the project; all ongoing operational costs must be found within existing Council financial resources."

Of interest is the General Manager's statement that "The proposed AALC represents a significant increase in the level of service available to the community, which in turn represents a substantial increase in operational costs that will not be met by user fees and charges." It appears from this statement that Council has painted itself into a corner and sees the only way of "moving forward" with the BBAALC is to sell the Community Centre (along with the Information Centre and most likely the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site). It is more than evident that the Batemans Bay Community site has been 'tweaked' over a period of time to be placed perfectly within Council's CBD vision of being a 15m high development perfectly suited for residential or commercial development. There are now building concerns that the Museum will be next. While the General Manager might say that statements made by Council regarding it's ability to sell or lease the Community Centre site are "not arrogant and are rather a simple factual and legally correct statement" the perception of those who continue to witness Council's apparent blind, indifferent and blatant intent around this matter and the way they have managed the BBAALC as a whole see their arrogant stance as both audacious and beyond reproach.