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Going Forward or are we going backwards


Thirty years ago the idea was born via Kevin Carmody of Nelligen to have a hydro-therapy pool in Batemans Bay. A group formed calling themselves the Indoor Aquatic Centre Committee and they started raising funds. General Manager Jim Levy had an idea to centralised key facilities in and around Broulee to create it as a Central point for an expanding shire recognising that duplication of major facilities in each of the main towns was not economically viable. Along with his engineers the idea of economic rationalism began. This idea of a centralised aquatic facility however was not palatable to those in the north who had committed so much time to fundraising. They wanted the facility in Batemans Bay for the Batemans Bay community. The first site considered was the reserve area at Batehaven on Corrigans Reserve which is reclaimed swamp. This met with resistance so the idea to build the facility in the Hanging Rock Sports precinct was floated and gained community support via a lengthy and inclusive survey and submission process. Coinciding with this determination was the idea to build a roundabout on Beach Road at the Hanging Rock entrance to cater for the increased traffic expected of the new centre. In the then 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. An aside: 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. Sadly, as this will now be a four lane highway with peel offs Councillor Constable's idea of a roundabout will not be. So why not, in 2012, build the pool at the Batemans Bay Bowling Club site? Well, it wasn't on the market then... some history for those interested ... (and for any councillors reading) In 2008 at a public meeting held in the Batemans Bay Bowling Club auditorium the newly elected Mayor Ferg Thomson was asked about a pool. He responded that Council would commit to building one. That same meeting asked questions around what would happen to the Bowling Club that was in financial difficulty - at that stage councillors had informally suggested that the site would make a good location for a bus terminal, information centre, exhibition space, community use, retail and even seniors accommodation. Soon after that meeting the Golf Club bought the site and it wasn't until 2016 that Council revealed it had been secretly negotiating the purchase from the Golf Club finally agreeing on $2.7 million dollars. So the community nearly got what they wanted in 2012 when Council unanimously endorsed the go ahead for a 25m pool at Hanging Rock supported by the community via widespread engagement and inclusion. The Council moved a motion (August 2012) to seek tenders and all systems were go however the General Manager did not proceed. We now learn that Council had a sniff that the Bowling Club site would become available for sale so they waited to see what would happen. The golf club came to realise that the bowling club was a considerable financial burden and decided to offload it. In their 2015/2016 Annual report the Golf Club stated: The high point is our continued financial performance culminating in the sale of the bowling club. From October last year there was a steady flow of interest in this sale with one company provided exclusive rights for 120 days to investigate whether the site was suited to their purpose. During these negotiations a riparian corridor was highlighted as a contract killer. This corridor restricts development within 40 metres of the high water line and resulted in a 30 percent reduction in available land. The deal fell through. There were other offers and each was carefully considered but in the end the board was very pleased the successful bidder was the Eurobodalla Shire Council and this strategically placed asset would remain within our community’s portfolio. This Council has still NOT explained to the community, nor sought the community’s consent for the change of location from Hanging Rock to Mackay Park. By not doing so it has made a mockery of the “Significant consultation with the community [undertaken] to define a development direction for the site” as stated in 2013. In the only response received around the matter Council have advised that it is "not always essential that a council expressly alter or rescind a resolution prior to passing a later resolution, which is inconsistent or in conflict with the earlier resolution" quoting from the Local Government Act.


However NOTE the last paragraph - "To make sure that council’s intention is clear, it is considered best practice to expressly state that a later resolution is to replace an earlier one. In this way, the public, council staff and subsequent councillors can understand and act with certainty on council decisions." Of interest is that the Hanging Rock pool complex was going to cost $8 million but with projected blowouts to $14 million the Council was unable to raise the additional funds via grants which also added to the eventual delay. In addition to this is the recollection of a councillor that the cost of the Hanging Rock facility would have been added to due to Council needing to relocate the tennis courts. Keep in mind the community were neither privvy to any of this and remained in the dark. Nothing happened and it all went quiet until four years later on April 26th 2016 the community were told Council had paid $2.7 million for the Bowling Club site. There was joy in the streets with the Mayor Lindsay Brown saying everything looked rosy filled with ideas of what might be stating: “Council will seek expressions of interest with a view to forming a partnership to prepare a standout masterplan and redevelopment that will boost the economy and could provide the much needed upgrade to the swimming pool. Some of the opportunities for the site could include a new aquatic centre, an arts cultural cinema building, conference and event space, tourism accommodation, restaurant and cafes, seniors’ living and the integration of existing sporting fields into the future development of the precinct. The expression of interest will determine if there is private sector interest in partnering with Council”. “Purchasing this strategic site is a financially responsible investment into the future of Batemans Bay and the shire. There has been strong support for Council to purchase this site for some time and we have already heard a number of suggestions on what can be done with it." "There has been strong support for Council to purchase this site???" Strong support from who as the community had no idea and were certainly not informed. The purchase was made during a Confidential session of a Council meeting that saw nothing listed of the purchase in the agenda, no mention of the item on the floor when councillors came out of the Confidential session (as required by law) and no mention of it in the minutes. These actions alone have resulted in Eurobodalla Council being found in breach of the Local Government Act. In making his announcement that the purchase and proposed development could provide the much needed upgrade to the swimming pool the community were unaware that that the much needed upgrade to the swimming pool would see it downgraded to 25m. If only the community had read the report of 2012 written by staff that strongly suggested the trend was for Council's to replace 50m pools with 25m multi functional pools and that Eurobodalla should do likewise. Little did the community also realise that Council were plotting to move everything to the southern end of the Mackay Park south, get rid of the 50m pool and the Mini Golf and then sell off the Bowling Club to the highest bidder after the RMS had finished with it. Council has claimed all along it has engaged with the community but we have learnt that this engagement has been revealed as constructed and manipulated and the consultation has been revealed as token at best as the disquiet around the plans, proposed facilities and business case details have revealed. In all it has become a dog's breakfast and a classic example of Council's failure to manage the original aquatic centre request over thirty years. All the community wanted was a hydrotherapy pool. It didn't ask for splash pad, water slides, a multi function 25m pool not a learn to swim pool and it certainly didn't ask for the removal of the town's Olympic pool. With the purchase of the Bowling Club site all the community wanted was an exhibition space, some additional community meeting rooms, a possible gallery space and a performance space. That could have been provided at little cost with a revamp of the Bowling Club however Council instead decided to let the building fall into decay so that there was no hope of resurrection even moving a motion to demolish it once they had decided to press ahead with their grand ideas in the south of the precinct. The sad saga of how we have arrived to where we are today with over $1 million spent in consultant fees, no report of the geo-technical dilemmas that await construction, no plans, no business case and a project that has projected incomes based on nonsense with no idea of projected running costs is a testament to pure pigheadedness. Like the rest of the community I await Concept D and its associated detailed business case. I also can't wait to find out how much Council paid to buy out the lease of the Mini Golf with the General Manager given an open cheque as she was with the purchase of the Bowling Club. It is already widely speculated that there will be little difference between Concept D and the original Otium Option with all the facilities under one roof to reduce overheads. Will Council then seek the approval of the Batemans Bay Indoor Aquatic Committee suggesting that if they don't approve of their final design then they might get nothing? Will Council do the same with the PerfEx group suggesting that they agree to the selling of the Community Centre otherwise everything is off the table. And all this in the lead up to the next Local Government election in 2020. And what if Concept D and the business case are not agreeable? Will there be Concept E and F? The $25m from the Federal Government and the $26m from the State Government were unconditional. With $51m it was expected that Eurobodalla Council could build an Aquatic Arts and Cultural centre as there have been many elsewhere build for considerably less. Yet it is understood that council staff have publicly stated that $51m will not be enough. Should the project go ahead, should it blow out beyond $51m and should the projected incomes fall short and the operational costs prove prohibitive the ongoing maintenance of this new Regional Asset will have to be borne by every ratepayer in the Shire. Will that require a Special Rate Variation? The only assurity we have at present is the Mayor saying there would not be a SRV in the term of this Council. That is reassuring ... for the next fourteen months when all deals are off..... Going forward....

#Opinion

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