This is the third, and final, of an article arguing that in the author’s opinion the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) may have breached the Local Government Act 1993 in it’s actions in relation to the proposed new council Chambers and Cultural Centre in Gordon Street.
Part 1 was published on Tuesday and part 2 was published yesterday. Links to both are at the bottom of this article.
By Chris Bramley
Potential Breaches of the Local Government Act 1993 No.30 cont……
In reviewing the Local Government Act (http://legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/act/1993/30) it does not take long to expose a litany of potential breaches by Council in respect of the proposed Civic building (call it what it is) project.
A summary appears below that carries on from Parts 1 and 2 of this article:
(3) Community participation
Councils should actively engage with their local communities, through the use of the integrated planning and reporting framework and other measures.
There can be little doubt that Council failed its duty to consult with the broader community, given the significant financial impact and limited relevance for the vast majority of residents and ratepayers. See here for further evidence in relation to this point; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/put-an-administrator-in-place-letter-to-minister-2/
What engagement actually occurred appears so secretive that even those who partook seem unable to effectively elaborate.
A simple solution was to include information with annual rates notices and seek public comment. Given the ease of this solution, the public has reason to believe that their comments were not welcome.
I believe that under section 8A (3) Council has gravely and/or intentionally committed a breach.
CHAPTER 3 > SECTION 8B PRINCIPLES OF SOUND FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
(a) Council spending should be responsible and sustainable, aligning general revenue with expenses.
It is impossible to contemplate spending over $76 million on a building that is not fit for the purposes intended, fails to meet the spatial needs of existing facilities, that delivers no income stream and provides no scope for future expansion.
There is no commercial or financial justification and certainly no sound financial management demonstrated. The Civic project is an irresponsible misuse of public funds.
It is entirely unsustainable to require the entire ratepayer community to pay for the lavish enjoyment and benefit of a very few.
The principal of sustainability is longevity, which cannot be attributed to a building that is grossly insufficient and redundant before it is built.
Not only will the debt encumber the community for a building most will never use, but it will also compromise Council’s ability to provide the appropriate and required services into the future.
(b) Councils should invest in responsible and sustainable infrastructure for the benefit of the local community.
This is not a project that aligns with benefiting the majority, but a very few in the community and the ulterior motivations appear to me to never to have been in the community’s interests.
A responsible approach is to provide the community with facilities and services that, at the very least, provide space for future growth to support population expansion, accommodate future needs in a changing world and is financially self-supporting.
The Civic building is the antithesis of responsible and sustainable. As such it will quickly lose its lustre and risks becoming a financially draining “white elephant”.
Responsible and sustainable infrastructure is flood mitigation (albeit mostly serving the CBD), improved sewer treatment and future proofing water supply. It is not a new building for Council that compromises the ability for service delivery.
(c) Councils should have effective financial and asset management, including sound policies and processes for the following (pertinent content only):
(iii) funding decisions
There is no feasible rationale for funding a loss-making venture such as the Civic building. From the outset the building was never proposed to produce an income and will be entirely reliant on the ratepayer to finance debt and maintenance.
The original prospect of a performing arts and entertainment centre at least had potential to contribute revenue, however the constricted site would have impacted viability.
(iv) risk management practices
There is little to believe in Council’s approach to risk management in respect of the Civic building.
In the General Manager’s recent comments to Councillors on 8 July last, he stated to the effect, that Council had obtained a fixed pricing for construction to mitigate against cost blow outs.
Unfortunately, based on the limited information Council shares, it appears the architectural plans are not totally complete, there is no mention of engineering and the public is unaware of any tender for construction.
The General Manager seems to have based this statement on an undisclosed quantity surveyor’s assessment. That assessment could not be accurate at this stage (unless the public remains ill informed) and could not bind an appropriately qualified and capable construction company, which would be the final adjudicator as to price.
The lack of substantive information and rigour suggests the entire process has been contrived.
(d) Councils should have regard to achieving intergenerational equity, including ensuring the following:
(i) policy decisions are made after considering their financial effects on future generations,
(ii) the current generation funds the cost of its services.
Clearly neither of these responsibilities have not been addressed, or worse ignored, by Council.
The future financial burden from a non-income producing, unfit for purpose building, will dog subsequent generations.
The notional community benefit from existing free services and the provision of support for CBD property owners (including a Councillor) cannot justify the unconscionable cost lumbered upon the community.
At any level, the feasibility of this project, financial or social, fails.
Under section 8B there are four guidelines of which Council has gravely and/or intentionally breached all four.
There can be no confusion that Council seems to have intentionally manipulated the project process from:
i. conceptualising the end result, being new Council offices,
ii. misleading the community in believing the project was principally a long-awaited entertainment facility,
iii. selecting consultation participants who were are arguable aligned to Council or the services and facilities that would potentially benefit for the project,
iv. failed to engage the broader community or maintain a level of candor with the community,
v. misrepresenting the consultation process such as to imply overwhelming community support,
vi. misrepresented the true purpose of the project in contributing to the economic fortunes of the CBD and by extension, property values,
vii. mislead the public into expecting modern museum and arts facilities, which have been subsequently constrained within the final design,
viii. persisted with a constrained site despite evidence that it would never accommodate the spatial requirements of the existing facilities and services, let alone cater for future expansion,
ix. failed to consider or address the financial and social feasibility of the project,
x. failed to evidence claimed asset valuations, costings, provisions, or contingency factors,
xi. demonstrated a distinct lack of judgement or care for the future burden to be placed on the community,
xii. seem to many to have manipulated the designed tendering process,
xiii. appear to have manipulated the Council voting procedure, to facilitate a Councillor with arguably a demonstrable conflict of interest to participate, thereby ensuring the Mayor the ability to improperly use a casting vote,
xiv. and seem to have breached the majority of core Local Government principals in a determined approach to realise its goal.
The entire process pursued by Coffs Harbour City Council and driven by the General Manager and Mayor replicates the fiasco that became the Port Macquarie Glasshouse in my opinion.
It appears an egregious error by the General Manager who does not seem to have considered and learnt from the review findings in respect of the Glasshouse.
To then apparently replicate the findings beggars belief.
This suggests certain mismanagement, fiscal irresponsibility and a dominating approach that many believe is inappropriate for the executive function of Council.
The above is the third and final of a number of opinion articles by Chris Bramley on this issue.
Chris is GM and owner of BH Group who battled the CHCC’s in the Land and Environment Court over a proposed Pacific Highway Motel in 2014.
The Land and Environment Court ruled in favour of BH Group. See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-24/coffs-harbour-hotel-rejection-overturned-in-land-and-environmen/5767160
Part 1 of this story can be found here: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/are-gordon-street-actions-breaches-of-the-local-government-act-part-1/
Part 2 can be found here: https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/are-gordon-street-actions-breaches-of-the-local-government-act-part-2/