Encouraged by the actions of the NSW Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, to defer the $76.5m Civic Precinct development in Coffs Harbour saying it was foolish, rash and unnecessary at this stage members of the Eurobodalla community wrote to the Minister saying :
"It is reassuring to find a Minister willing to ensure that public funds are spent wisely and not squandered on unnecessary, overambitious or unaffordable projects, particularly those that lack community support.
With your efforts to act in the Public Interest in mind, we seek your intervention on a proposed multi million dollar development in the Eurobodalla Shire.
NAME: Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre(BBRAALC)
COST: $55m plus(with cost blow out some say it could be up to $70m)
FUNDING: Grants from State and Federal Governments – $51m, Loan - $4m
The reasons for seeking your intervention are many: limited consultation, unaffordability, failure to address community expectations, questionable economic viability, secrecy and deception by Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC) throughout the process.
For decades the Batemans bay community had wanted an indoor heated 50m pool and a performance space. When ESC bought the old Bowling Club site(with no consultation & for unknown reasons) in 2016, it appeared the Bay community would finally get their heated 50m pool.
However, in the intervening 3 - 4 years, plans became more ambitious with more inclusions and the area for the proposed development was extended to include the adjacent site of the present outdoor 50m pool and iconic Mini Golf business.
Inclusions: 6 or 7 aquatic pools/features, gym, wellness area, amenities; arts and cultural centre with auditorium, gallery and exhibition space; wet and dry art spaces, storage, meeting and multi purpose rooms; cafe, Visitor Information Centre, Community Centre, offices.
However, at some point in time, for reasons unknown to the public, council decided not to include the old Bowling Club site. This meant all the inclusions having to be squashed into half the space. So now the proposal only has a 25m pool, a much reduced auditorium(500 seats down to 350) and no space for future expansion.
REASONS FOR INTERVENTION
* Consultation: Council failed to comply with its own Community Engagement Framework for a major development. Major decisions were made by council with the community only being consulted on minor issues – even councillors were not given the opportunity to vote on the demolition of 50m pool.
Community did not ask for yet another gym – already at least 4 in the Bay.
The Sunset Committee was sworn to secrecy. Resignations occurred as input was ignored and engagement with the community was denied.
Major user groups were not consulted.
Council’s online survey showed overwhelming support for 50m pool. This was ignored by council.
Resolutions passed at public meetings, organised by the community, over the last 2 and a half years were presented to council but were ignored.
* Affordability: Original business case provided by Otium 4 years ago contained disclaimers, required additional considerations and updating. However no revised business case has been made available to the public, even though Minister Andrew Constance advised council to do so.
Eurobodalla is a low income area with an aging demographic. Without a business case it is unknown if future ongoing costs are affordable.
Council has admitted that there is a cost ‘blow out’ well above the $55m – the amount is being kept secret. Council intends to cover this amount by selling off community assets. Assets to be sold are also being kept secret.
* Community Expectations: Community needs and expectations have not been met as council was selective in their consultation excluding major user groups like swimming club, surf clubs etc. One of the shire’s surf clubs(surf lifesavers) did a public forum presentation to council saying they needed a 50m pool for training. Council said it would ‘look into’ a 50m sea pool – nothing has eventuated.
As regards the gym, council should not be going into competition with local businesses. Either current gyms will lose business and possibly close or council’s gym will not attract the business it expects.
As council intends to sell the present Community Centre it was hoped the new development would cater for all the uses the Centre is currently used for – not so. It seems there is no kitchen/fridge space to cater for Meals on Wheels as is the case at the moment.
It was hoped the auditorium would be large enough to attract ‘big named artists’ – not so. The Bay already has a Club with 500 seating capacity so why bother with a 350 seat auditorium?
* Economic Viability: difficult to assess without a current business case.
Those requiring a 50m pool for training, competition, carnivals, events etc will have to travel outside the shire to Ulladulla – loss of patronage.
Auditorium not big enough for major/popular performances.