Local, Opinion/Comment

“Gordon Street opponents want proper cultural facilities”

My wife and I attended the opening night of the Still Life Art exhibition (STILL) at the Coffs Harbour Art Gallery on the evening of Friday 20 September. My wife being a graduate of the University of NSW’s City Art Institute.

By Chris Bramley

Our congratulations to the Gallery for the exhibition, the artists who submitted works and the eventual winner.

I also declare that I am Co-Chair of the Citizens’ Voice Coffs Coast (“Citizens’ Voice”) which opposes the inclusion of Council Office space and chambers within the Gordon Street project.

Contrary to the incorrect assertions made at the opening of STILL by the Mayor and Ms Heather McKinnon (pictured below), of Friends of the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, and those supporting the inclusion of Council offices within the Gordon Street project, Citizens’ Voice unequivocally endorses extensive cultural facilities on the Coffs Coast.

Heather McKinnon of Friends of Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery

Having been denied development of City Hill by Council, the whole community deserves venues that are the very best available and not at the expense of one element of the arts over another, as is the case with the Gordon Street project. There should be no argument for second rate facilities or exclusion.

So far 13,253 residents have taken the effort to sign the circulating Petition, which clearly states in part;

We the residents ..desire and request a pause in the progress of the Council Chambers, Art Gallery, Library and Museum project..pending more and meaningful community consultation on that project…and more meaningful community consultation for the assessment of other options for a new Performing Arts facility, Art Gallery, Library and Museum for our local government area.”

The community’s overwhelming support for the Petition signals it had high expectations for the new Cultural and Arts project, having waited decades for the development of the City Hill Cultural precinct. The negative public reaction is the consequence in my opinion of having the project hijacked by Council. It reflects the common view that the public had been misled and cheated and wondering where there promised Entertainment Centre has gone. And rightly so.

The fact the Museum has a compromised space within the Gallery tells us that to Council, and others, not all cultural endeavours deserve equal standing. “Some are more equal then others” it seems

George Orwell’s famous maxim from Animal Farm

Where were objections from the Gallery or Library supporting the lack of space for the Museum or the complete lack of space for the Performing Arts?

It is an injustice for all those passionately involved in Culture and Arts on the Coffs Coast and for our broader community, particularly the youth who will miss out on expansive, contemporary facilities.

Surely, the community deserves better having waited for generations? Surely, we should expect contemporary, multi-use facilities catering to all forms of artistic pursuits, community participation and tourism?

Notable Comments from the STILL Opening

Heather McKinnon stated “it is very difficult to get cultural infrastructure into a community”, suggesting the community was opposed, but I doubt that.

The issue is not our community’s stance as shown by the outpouring of criticism. Nor is it the State and Federal Government’s stances, as grants for the Arts are available to Council for genuine arts and entertainment centres. But not for a building housing Council itself.

No the issue lies with our Council, the lack of successive leadership and those who “pull the strings”.

It occurred to me that if it were such an important issue, why did Ms McKinnon and the “Be Brave” people, the Chamber of Commerce, the former Tourism Association and all those subordinate groups that orbit the CBD, not push for City Hill years ago?

Why did they not publicly object to the proposed new Council offices?

Why would those same people/groups not even expect a bigger and better outcome for the Cultural and Arts community out of the Gordon Street project?

Why are they compromising to the extent that the new Gallery, Museum and Library will be effectively redundant before they are built? Coffs Coast will get no second chance.

Particularly noteworthy, was that in their opening addresses, both Heather McKinnon and the Mayor only referred to the Library, Museum and Gallery at Gordon Street.

This was especially noteable given the presence of the NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin (below) in the audience.

NSW Minister for the Arts and Culture Don Harwin MLC . Photo – Lattitude 30 Images

The glaring omission of any reference to Council offices or the detrimental impact of Council’s space replacing a Performing Arts zone in front of the Minister, yet still admonishing critics, was anything but a “class act” in my opinion.

Those double standards were an example of why the community is angry and why they are disillusioned with a Mayor, who was once a champion for Culture and the Arts, the Performing Arts in particular, and who now seems to have forgotten them.

The public are rightly fed up with a lack of proper Cultural and Arts facilities and rightly angry that they were led to believe the Gordon Street project was a solution, albeit substandard only to find it has been further hijacked by Council and possibly others too.

People may recall the Mayor stating the Library Gallery Advisory Panel suggested that Council’s current buildings were nearing the end of useful life even though the General Manager maintains they are worth $20million, minus a 10% discouint, to an investor.

Hence, it would seem to me that there was a grand strategy to replace the performing arts space in the new building with Council offices, without genuine consultation with the broader community.

I have reviewed the supposed community consultation and is was a farce in my opinion.

I quote from the Review of Community Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement 2018:

  • 233 attended 23 separate focus groups and stakeholder meetings (average 10 per meeting or the same 10 attended subsequent meetings)
  • 236 completed the concept design survey (before Council dumped the shortlisted designs, seemingly without explanation or due process)
  • 2900 “instances” of online engagements (what defines an “instance”)
  • 475 completed the library and gallery strategic planning surveys
  • 831 survey comments/feedback received
  • 1421 “key phrases of feedback” from focus groups and written feedback analysed

The 233 who physically attending the focus groups equates to only 0.05% of registered voters in the community, or even less if they attended multiple sessions.

It begs the questions:

  • If Council truly wanted the community’s feedback, why were we all not contacted?
  • Why were we all not invited?
  • Why were only some invited and over multiple sessions?

The simple answer in my view is that Council did not want to hear the broader community’s opinion.

Make of the terminology (“instances, key phrases, comments/feedback”) as you will, but consider there are upwards of 33,000 residences and 45,000 voters in the Local Government Area.

Ask yourself do you feel that Council made an appropriate effort to consult you over the following:

  1. the choice of Gordon Street over an entire Cultural and Arts precinct at City Hill,
  2. the 2016 replacement of the performing arts space with Council offices,
  3. the sale of public property,
  4. spending $76 million, if that figure can be trusted, on a building that will effectively be operationally redundant in comparison to the existing facilities and space.

Chris Bramley is Co-Chair of Citizens’ Voice Coffs Coast

12 Comments

  1. I had not even been aware this project existed. I must have missed the publication of it’s existence.
    How many other’s were not aware.
    I’ve heard the excuses that it has been public knowledge for some time ,but how many weren’t aware of it until now.
    There are a number of issues surrounding this project.
    I believe most would agree that coffs harbour does need a better library and a cultural centre but it also needs much more and that does not include new council offices.
    Then there is the concern of where it is to be situated plus the expense.
    As for the solutions for raising the funding, they rely on too many unknown factors as well as the costs involved in leasing back the properties to be sold.
    It is not as cut and dried as many are depicting and those who do not support this project, do not do so out of ignorance, as has been suggested by some .
    There are many issues ,surrounding this project, that need to be dealt with .

  2. By selling off buildings we own to build 1 inappropriate building it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that is not a smart financial decision..and this 1 expensive building will make minimal profits and receive no grants..I,m no expert but does this make sense?

  3. Great article Chris but with just one blemish. The 3rd photo features a grim faced Michael Adendorff who I suspect is realising that perhaps his participating in the McGrath regime is damaging his reputation and hurting his pride.
    Today, I emailed the premier, minister, ombudsman and Gurmesh and requested their response to aspects of Rob Stevermann’s article.

    • I don’t think I was an expected visitor John.
      To her credit the Mayor, whilst a little taken aback when I introduced myself, was pleasant and still welcomed us “those who aren’t our supporters” to the event.
      I just call it as I see it or in this case, hear it.

  4. Good work Chris Brambley.

  5. Fran Stephenson

    ‘Be Brave’ – ummh – bravery is when an outstanding action is taken in the face of danger. Yes it is a brave and dangerous step. But more accurately foolish and irresponsible to spend $76.5m on moving what we already have a few hundred metres around the corner. But then again, maybe it is ‘brave’ as there is danger in spending this huge amount of money. Sounds like change for change sake to me! How will this revitalise the Central Business District ?

  6. Excellent article Chris and great preceding comments.

    John I too emailed the Minister, OLG, Auditor General, the Premier and the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. As well as the General Manager, certain councillors only on one email (those whose listen), referring in one to Rob S’s (retired forensic auditor for Federal and State governments) great article published in this wonderful asset to Coffs’ community – the Coffs Coast Outlook.

    I have called on the Premier to instruct the Minister to intervene IMMEDIATELY – before the person “at the root of much of our problems, or even who has played a significant part in ALL, of the numerous facets that the Gordon Street proposal has led to being unearthed goes on to sign away properties that belong to us all…. .

    We reached a point yesterday with Rob’s “Grants, grants everywhere” excellent article that forces us to face systemic lack of financial viability for servicing costs of providing the basic services that a local council MUST view as it’s core activities.

    This means that we are now in the realm of calls to action for community members to complain to/advise and inform ASIC. and perhaps, as the bringing to light efforts of many continue, even a need to approach the ICAC ……

    We really are experiencing a “KnightMare” ….. as some witty person coined about a week and a half ago.

    Yes ….we, as a whole community …. are caught in an ongoing, and ever evolving in degree and complexity, nightmare.

    BUT …..
    in view of how the majority of the community are pulling together, note mind ….in a transparent and inclusive manner …. “People Power” will prevail.

    Get involved people. Please go to Face book group “Citizens’ Voice Coffs Coast” and request to join. Once you have been approved the please use the “Invite Members” to send an invitation to your local Facebook pals….

    The community spirit and joint coghesive and collaborative efforts is extremely reassuring…. keep it up folks. Gai

  7. Maybe we need a 16 year old girl to address the Mayor and Yell You have stolen my ” “Entertainment Center ” with a Scowl on her face .
    Then People Might Notice ?

  8. Well said Chris.

    If I were the local wider arts community, particularly those in the performing arts, I’d be feeling ripped off by this so called cultural center proposal. The arts have truly been dudded again by this Council yet again.

    The proposed art gallery might be a tad bigger than the current one 200 meters away, the
    library is about the same, the museum area is smaller and there is no entertainment centre worthy of the name.

    But the bureaucrats get a new admin building they don’t need and the average ratepayer doesn’t want. And because of that no State or Federal funding help for the $76m will be available. An amount that will undoubtedly blow out because they always do .

    Council executive and a few associated entities with far too much say in this town, and who seem to the average punter to have “done deals dirt cheap”, must be laughing their heads off.

    Council needs cleaning out with a wire brush and Dettol. Preferably an Administrator needs to be put in charge of it. And sooner rather than later.

    • I am in full agreement Ron and I believe the momentum is building. They can deny all they like, but the overwhelming resident support will win out.

  9. A well-written, well-constructed and balanced article, Chris. We should all “BE BRAVE” but we should try not to be stupid. The Gordon Street proposals are LOGIC ABSENTIA and the General Manager and Councillor Adendorff’s respective roles in the whole “affair” disgraceful; making a farce of Statutory Obligations to “act in the BEST INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE AS A WHOLE” which you cannot do if you do not act honestly and transparently. Janne C Lindrum

    • Thank you Jane. “Honesty and Transparency” once a given and now an ideal!

      Council has yet to give the people a tangible excuse for hijacking the performing arts space and that makes a fallacy of anything they say.

Leave a Comment

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

*