REVEALED: Civic space funding ‘myth’
THE Cultural and Civic Space was once again the subject of lengthy and heated debate at Coffs Harbour City Council Chambers on Thursday night.
Mayor Denise Knight warned the crowd, which was again spilling out into the foyer, to avoid calling out and “heckling”.
Two motions by Cr Keith Rhoades who has been a vocal critic of the $76.5m proposal were up for consideration.
It’s not his first attempt to stall the Gordon Street project which he says has strong opposition from the community largely due to the inclusion of council office space and lack of a performing arts centre.
The first motion requested that all contracts relating to the project in excess of $250,000 be determined by full council and not under delegated authority (determined by senior staff).
The second motion was calling for an ‘actual and proper costing’ to add an additional floor to the existing Council Administration Building in Castle St. He has dismissed previous estimates as ‘guesstimates’.
“On several occasions I have asked for costings for this. There is strong community concern that there may be an opportunity to save ratepayers many millions of dollars and still achieve the desired result of having all staff in one location,” Cr Rhoades said.
The project which will include a library, art gallery, public spaces, a café and council offices has been the subject of lengthy, fiery debates in council for several months now.
Votes have often been tied with Mayor Denise Knight forced to use her deciding vote to progress the project although she has recently declined to do this, saying a tied vote means the motion is lost based on their code of conduct.
A Development Application for the CBD build is currently with the State Government but many of the councillors opposed to it, including Tegan Swan and Paul Amos, have in the last six months raised motions designed to stall the project in its current form.
Both Steve Gooley and Janne Lindrum spoke in support of Cr Rhoades’ motions on Thursday night.
Mr Gooley, General Manager of the Bachrach Naumburger Group, acknowledged his business links to Park Beach Plaza but denied he had a conflict of interest.
“I have been accused of having a huge conflict of interest in this matter but even if it was to be built near the plaza I would not support this level of spending with no chance of getting State or Federal grants,” Mr Gooley said.
Cr Sally Townley seized on this comment to reveal one of the applications for State Government funding was in fact recommended for approval by an independent panel.
“Are you aware that council last year applied for $9m in funds, and the project was in fact deemed eligible and was ranked 16 out of approximately 152 projects recommended for funding,” Cr Townley said.
“This matter is a cause for concern in the community, so I thought I would bring up the facts of matter and reveal it was deemed eligible and recommended by an independent assessment panel so who knows what happened in this process? So what people have been told by our State and Federal members is important in clearing up this myth and we will have to look into this.”
Mr Gooley brushed this off saying he has had extensive conversations with State Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh on the matter.
“He has also done an extensive amount of research and found that in over 40 years a council has never received funding for council offices,” Mr Gooley said.
One of those speaking against the motions, and urging councillors to progress with the proposal in its current form, was museum volunteer Geoffrey Watts. He spoke of the urgent need to create a new cultural precinct will all facilities in the one location.
“City Hill already had a good run, but plans fell over because there were too many problems with it,” Mr Watts said.
“There is no perfect solution but we’ve got to go with a solution and it needs to happen soon. If we don’t do it now Park Beach Plaza will become our spiritual centre.“
It was then over to Councillors to debate the matter.
Cr Rhoades said council has lost the confidence of the community and to allow decisions on spending, in excess of $250,000, to be delegated to the authority of the General Manager would be ‘invalid’.
The motion was supported unanimously with a slight variation to apply to ‘all’ council projects in excess of $250,000 ‘including’ the Cultural and Civic Space.
Cr Rhoades then moved to his next motion, seeking accurate costings for the construction of an additional storey on the existing chambers in Castle St. He said he was ‘gobsmacked’ to read the staff report on his motion stating it would cost $1m to secure such a quote.
Acting general manager Andrew Bestwick clarified this saying it was just an estimate and there were a number of difficulties costing such works on a building almost 40 years old.
“It doesn’t have a sprinkler system for example. The building has undergone significant changes over time and has different characteristics given its age that makes the design of it more complex.”
But Cr Rhoades pushed on saying it was vital to get the costing to “restore the community’s faith in council”.
Cr Amos supported the motion saying: “Maybe this building could take five storeys if we get lucky, and the value of this building could explode.”
Cr Michael Adendorff who has always supported the project in its current form referred back to museum volunteer Mr Watts.
“I can’t say it better than Mr Watts. We need all these elements in the one precinct. It will give us a cultural soul,” Mr Adendorff said.
“This is a community of great football fields, great beaches and sheds. There’s very little of architectural and spiritual soul.”
The motion was finally put to a vote and once again it was split along those familiar lines with Crs Michael Adendorff, George Cecato, Sally Townley and Denise Knight voting against and Crs John Arkan, Paul Amos, Tegan Swan and Keith Rhoades for it.
Due to the tie the motion was declared lost.