The Beagle Editor, Anthony Mayne has received a response from the Council to his Question on Notice to the Council about the proposed lease of the Batemans Bay Community Centre.
There is some good news there. The Council has confirmed that it has no plans to sell the site, and that existing groups can be accommodated in either Council or privately owned sites around the Bay area. The response says that there is under-utilisation of these sites, and the Council does not foresee a problem with relocating services that currently use the centre.
However there are a number of extra questions raised from the response.
1. How does the Council measure under-utilisation of community places? I contacted the Council earlier in the year to find out what was available for community use, and was told that there are around 250 community spaces available in the Council owned facilities in Batemans Bay (76 under the COVID restrictions at the time) This would be around 17 places per 1000 people which seems low to me.
2. What is the current users’ opinion about the relocation options proposed by the Council? Is the Meals on Wheels service going to be able to relocate its equipment so that it can continue to provide its essential service? What about the many people for whom the U3A is a valuable learning and social resource?
3. What is the process for getting public reaction to this proposal. There is clearly public interest in this, given the large turn-out to the protest a couple of weeks ago. Is there going to be a public consultation by the Council so that the general public and not just current users can have a say? The centre is used on an ad-hoc basis by community members for celebrations and so on, so these people need to have a say as well as regular users.
4. The Council response says that one of the criteria for a long term lease is whether the potential lessee is prepared to sub-let the centre. This is obviously an attempt to reduce criticism that the centre will be removed from the stock of community accessible places. This is not an acceptable response.
First, it effectively puts control of how the centre is used into private hands - the lessee will decide who can use the centre and when, rather than the Council.
Second, if the centre is being leased at commercial rates, it is likely that any subletting or hiring will be used to offset the cost of the rental, and is very likely to be higher than current rates. The response to the QON says that existing users will be charged similar hiring fees when they are re-located, but stays silent on the charges that a private lessee may charge for using the centre’s facilities.
Third, this is another example of outsourcing where governments handover their responsibilities to private interests, making it more difficult to hold government to account, and reducing the power of the community to control public resources. Too much public owned resources have been privatised or (using the same term) “outsourced”, with the resulting lack of quality, lack of accountability, reduced access and increased prices. It is a failed policy and should no longer be acceptable.
It is clear from the large crowds at the Batemans Bay Community Centre protest a few weeks ago, that this is a facility that many in the community value very highly, and want it to continue to be managed by the Council. David Grace