Local, Politics

Council’s swimming pool outsourcing experiment ‘crashes and burns’. Are there others?

Congratulations to TripleM Coffs Coast for breaking this story today. The following is from their web site.

“While rumours had been circulating for months, Coffs Harbour City Council have today confirmed that they will take back management of the local public swimming pools.

The city swimming pool acroos the road from the Council Chambers in Castle Street.

In a statement released by Council they have announced that they will work with Lane 4 to transition pool management arrangements to Council. 

Group Leader Financial Services and Logistics Mark Griffien said a decision has been made by Coffs Harbour City Council to take over the management of the pools from Lane 4.

“Council has decided to take over management of the pools from mid-October to ensure this vital recreational service continues to be provided to the community and visitors.  We have been discussing this matter with Lane 4 and have come to an arrangement that is in the best possible interests of all involved.”

On July 1, Triple M asked Coffs Harbour City Council whether rumours were true that Lane 4 would no longer hold the lease for the swimming pools, the following day, the CHCC media department confirmed to Triple M that it was not the case, saying that “works are ongoing on the indoor pool to have it filled and heated and we’re working with Lane 4 on a completion date for the reopening”.

Todd McHardy CEO of Lane 4 said like many Australian businesses, particularly in the recreation industry, the business has suffered greatly with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whilst COVID-19 safe plans have ensured swimming pools are now a great place to visit, the federal and state government restrictions caused a significant shut down period and loss of revenue, membership and swim school enrolment. 

Coffs Harbour City Council have agreed to release Lane 4 from this lease due to the extreme financial pressure COVID-19 has created.

“We will continue to operate the Coffs Harbour War Memorial Olympic Swimming Pool and open the Sawtell and Woolgoolga Pools in readiness for summer, then coordinate a professional transition of management in mid-October” Mr Hardy said.

“As a company we enjoyed the challenge this lease presented and felt welcomed by the Coffs community and Council. We wish all residents well with their future swimming and thank the amazing Lane 4 local staff for their hard work during some challenging times. Staff will be eligible to seek employment with Council at the appropriate time subject to operational needs.”

Many locals were angered over the arrangements when Lane 4 Aquatics took on the leases of the three swimming pools back in May 2017, with some councillors also blindsided when they heard of the arrangements for the first time on Triple M. Questions were then raised from Councillors about the extent of the use of delegated authority by the General Manager for future decisions.

At the time, Cr Tegan Swan took to social media saying, “I encourage everyone to email and call council and let them know how you feel.”

“I’m so disappointed that we as Councillors were kept in the dark as well. I’m all for honesty and transparency especially if hard decisions are required.”

The lease periods offered for each site were:

  1. Coffs Harbour War Memorial Swimming Pool: Ten years with the option to extend for a further ten years.
  2. Sawtell Swimming Pool: Five years with the option to extend for a further five years.
  3. Woolgoolga Swimming Pool: Five years with the option to extend for a further five years.

The new leases began on July 1 2017.”


First published by TripleM Coffs Coast on Thursday 30 July. See; https://www.triplem.com.au/story/breaking-news-coffs-council-take-back-swimming-pool-management-164600


Coffs Coast Outlook Editorial comment;

This is what was reported by The Coffs Coast Advocate, when the new swimming pool management arrangement, which was controversial at the time, was announced on 5 May 2017;

The tender was awarded by Council’s General Manager Steve McGrath under delegated authority, a process that does not require it to go to the council meeting for decision.

Legally, we can’t disclose the detail of the tenders as that’s commercially sensitive, but I can assure the community that very careful consideration was given to all the tenders Council received,” said Mick Raby, Council’s Acting General Manager.

In terms of criteria such as the quality of the services, future plans, proven ability to work with the community and user groups and the aquatic programmes that all the tenderers offered, there was very little difference between them.

However, the difference in price between the tenders was significant -giving ratepayers a saving in excess of $4-million when compared to the next best-performing tender.”

The statement comes after the serving managers of the three pools expressed their dismay at the council’s decision.

“We completely understand that the current operators of the pools – the Hunt Family, Kerri Ann McLaughlin, Mark McLaughlin and Daniel Leaver – are very disappointed that they were not successful and we can understand their distress,” Mr Raby said.

However, in considering tenders, we have to be independent, objective and impartial so that the process is fair to all parties – and especially to the ratepayers of the Coffs Harbour local government area.” See; https://www.coffscoastadvocate.com.au/news/controversial-pool-tenders-save-city-4-million/3174586/

Well it didn’t take long for that to unwind now did it?

Interestingly Covid19 gets some of the blame for this in TripleM’s story today.

But Lane 4’s request for $300k more per-annum was up for discussion at an April Council meeting after a February request from Lane 4. See; https://www.ausleisure.com.au/news/coffs-harbour-council-rejects-financial-assistance-request-from-aquatic-facility-operator/

CHCC GM Steve McGrath

The request was made in February – at least a month prior to any Covid19 lock-downs as mandated by the State Government.

Let that sink in.

The deal was not working prior to Covid19 became an issue.

So the tender accepted in mid-2017 was probably in trouble after roughly 2 1/2 years.

But we don’t know how the tendering process unfolded because it was awarded by Council’s General Manager Steve McGrath under delegated authority, a process that does not require it to go to the council meeting for decision.

Cr Swan is right. The tendering process is problematic.

And it seems, if other rumors are true, that it might not just be the Swimming Pools where the management of leases of Council facilities have run into trouble recently too.

Have similar problems occurred here too?
  • Is it true the managers of the basketball precinct in Bray Street, aka SportzCentral, have walked away from their lease?
  • Is it true that much of the roof ventilation work done on that precinct, a result of a government grant, has resulted in bad leakage problems each time it rains and that remedial work now needs to be done?

And don’t we still have a ticking time bomb around waste management with bio-mass waste being shipped to Tamworth each week at a cost of approximately $68,000 per week to the ratepayer?

Ratepayers would be justified in asking hard questions about Council’s contract management and tender allocation outcomes and procedures and then the ensuing management of the contractual relationship.

Given it is hard for ratepayers to do so effectively, and still be listened to, then that duty falls to Councillors to do so.

When it comes to the output of Council’s Executive Councillors are the ratepayers representatives and ultimately have power of review.

It is time they did so.


  1. Prarire Rose

    When it comes to the required due diligence around, and the negotiating, and ongoing management of contracts the Executive of the Coffs Harbour City Council couldn’t organise a booze up in a brewery with a platinum Amex card in their sweaty mitts in my opinion.

  2. John Cleese

    The tendering system of CHCC is problematic.This must be the understatement of the century, this exposes the whole tendering process is fraught with problems on every level of government.
    We only have to look at the disastrous Berjiklian govt light rail fiasco tender. The Spanish contractor had landed in heaven,increasing the tender from 1.5 billion to nearly 3.0 billion. All because the govt failed to call Dial Before You Dig.T he contractors saw an opportunity exposing all the omissions in the tender,mostly excavation.
    Imagine our council tendering for the cultural centre? DON,it would literally be another train wreck.
    Councils are inherently lazy and sub contract as much as they can especially compliance to other companies like BNG. It’s hilarious as soon as the word tender is announced it is supposed to infer fairness, best fit for the job and good value for the taxpayer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    I am constantly amazed at tenders awarded by this council. Experience and expertise mean little in winning a tender. We only have to reflect on our amazing landscaped Jetty Park and the “lost steps”, over $11 million on the whole project. The company awarded the tender was not a landscape company,they were a pipeline company I believe.
    Generally the same contractors “win” the tender in this town. If things get difficult the tender is written with the stringent criteria so narrow to eliminate competitors.I t’s almost comical,who are on the selection panels and who write the criteria, to award tenders,nameless public servants?
    The critical aspects are overlooked like the final job/inspections and the critical results. Tenders are awarded to some companies with no experience in certain areas,possibly nepotism or corruption?
    If council is scrutinised, the response is it was a fair process with regards to the tender,nothing more and say three Hail Marys. I know of companies tendering against themselves, with no competitors.The swimming pool debacle is not a surprise. Lets wait for the Jetty Plan 5, of course with a public consultation period, and then watch it proceed as per the original plan and a healthy disregard for comments in my experience.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *