Local, Politics

In 2012 Council looked to subdivide City Hill to help fund ‘major civic infrastructure’

On 9 August 2012 the Coffs Harbour City Council voted “not to quarantine the City Hill site for an Entertainment Centre and Art Gallery”.

As part of its deliberations at that meeting Council also considered a plan to subdivide and dispose of lower City Hill and to also approach the federal Government to remove the covenant covering this section of the property.

By the Editor

The agenda for this meeting makes it clear senior executives of Council had been looking at this for some time prior and that part of City Hill, at least, was being eyed off to help fund Future Major Civic Infrastructure (FMCI) such as a new Art Gallery, Museum, Entertainment Centre and also possible new Council Chambers in and around the CBD. 

The CBD was to be benificiary of City Hill subdivision

City Hill was defined as not being in the CBD.

The recommendations were based on a report prepared for Council by Savills Project Management which was delivered in March 2012.

Interestingly at the same meeting it was moved that 23-31 Gordon Street, the proposed site of the Cultural Centre and new Council Chambers, be disposed of.  The motion to do this was moved by then Councillor Denise Knight shortly before she was elected Mayor in September 2012.

The Coffs Coast Outlook reported on the move to sell 23-31 Gordon Street seven years ago here on 21 September 2018.

We did not report on the plan to subdivide and dispose of lower City Hill then though. 

Further recent research of Council minutes brought this to our attention. Although a commentator on the above story, Prarire Rose, was obviously ‘onto it’.

The following is sourced directly from the agenda of that 9 August 2012 council meeting;

b) Lower Section of City Hill

The adoption of the recommendation to sell the lower section of City Hill is based on the assumption that it will not be required for the provision of FMCI (Future Major Civic Infrastructure). If this is the case then it is surplus to Council’s needs, and being outside the CBD will not be affected by the outcome of the CBD Master Plan. Funds generated may assist with the future provision of FMCI in the CBD.

For the lower section of City Hill to be sold, the following would be required:

1. A new Council resolution to overturn Council’s resolution of October 2010 (referred to earlier in this report).

2. Finalisation of the subdivision that splits the lower section from the hill section. Subdivision approval was obtained in October 2010, but has not been acted upon due to the above resolution of Council.

3. Negotiate with the Commonwealth for removal of the Covenant that affects part of the property. From previous discussions with the Commonwealth on this issue, it is likely that funds from the area affected by the Covenant would be quarantined for use on cultural facilities in the CBD.

4. A decision on how to best market the land in accordance with probity guidelines.” (From page 40 of the minutes).

So what does this all mean?

It means that for at least seven years, probably longer, Council had wanted to use at least part of City Hill to help underwrite Future Major Civic Infrastructure such as the proposed Gordon Street Cultural Centre and new Council Chambers.

It also means Council wanted to use at least some of City Hill for purposes other than what was originally negotiated with the federal Government. 

Also, does it not possibly suggest that Council may have seen that if lower City Hill could be subdivided then at some later time so might the rest of it be subdivided too? And what might this mean for those who want City Hill ring fenced because of their belief it is a ‘unique ecosystem’?

It also clearly shows, however, Council was planning for new Council Chambers at least seven years ago. 

Being thought of in some form as far back as 2012?

Most of this information would probably not be known by most Coffs Harbour ratepayers even though it is available through publicly available sources like Council minute archives.

Interestingly the report also lays bare the situation Council was in financially in 2012;

“Council is well aware of its current financial position which is unsustainable into the future.  Staff have been preparing long term financial plans to address this major issue. Without substantial grant funding from the State or Federal Government (or both), Council currently cannot afford to build, maintain and operate these facilities*. That does not mean that Council should not plan now for their future provision.”

This in turn refers to the 2012 estimates of the following potential major civic infrastructure;

“The following cost estimates are only a guide and are based on freestanding construction on a level serviced greenfield site owned by Council. They do not include fit out, furniture or equipment.

1. Council Administration: “Civic Style” Green Building 7,650 m2 building yielding about 6,000 m2 of nett space plus 100 basement car parking spaces – $39 million.

2. Library: 2,500 m2 building yielding about 2,000 m2 of nett space plus 60 basement car parking spaces – $12.5 million 2,500 m2 building yielding about 2,000 m2 of nett space plus 60 at grade car spaces – $8.8 million.

3. Art Gallery: 2,200 m2 building yielding about 1,800 m2 of nett space plus 50 basement car parking spaces – $11 million 2,200 m2 building yielding about 1,800 m2 of nett space plus 50 at grade car spaces – $7.8 million.

4. Entertainment Centre 5,000 m2 Centre with 100 space basement car park – $29 million 5,000 m2 Centre with 100 space at grade car park – $25.5 million. (our emphasis added above).”

Current Councillors Townley, Amos, Swan and Adendorff were not Councillors in August 2012.

*(Editors note;   Councillor Rhodes said at the recent July 25 2019 adjourned Council meeting that he has been informed that no Government funding is available for any Council building that includes administrative chambers).


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  1. GOBSMACKED!!! But I wonder why? Council have been duplicitous before, & no doubt will do so again, if not now when?

  2. All very strange and very curious and, indeed, very interesting. Given the most successful tourism projects across the globe are located either on the outskirts of cities (TWEED/OLLEY Gallery, MONA, Art Gallery of NSW) or many kilometres away from city centres (e.g. HOBBITON, 56 minutes from the Industrial port of Tauranga, DISNEYLAND LA, Paris, Tokyo), why would Savills appear to recommend the sale of the lower section of a UNIQUE site with magnificent views over a pristine golf course on the one side and the sea and mountains on the other; a site easily accessible in all directions; a site visual from the air; a site capable of providing at-grade parking (far less expensive than basement parking) for cars and tourist buses, in favour of a site that overlooks an ugly concrete carpark situate in a cramped and congested part of the CBD? This matter becomes “Curiouser and curiouser!” Given Council’s stated financial position in 2012; “Council is well-aware of its financial position, which is unsustainable into the future”, its acknowledgement that “Without substantial Grant funding from the State or Federal Governments (or both), council cannot afford to build, operate or maintain these facilities” and the inference in this document that council intended to seek to have the Covenant on CITY HILL lifted and to carve up the land, and, in more recent times, the Motion providing the Executive with the power to liquidate publicly-owned assets at up to 10% less than their stated value, does this conduct suggest to ratepayers and residents that here is a council prepared to sell-off the farm? Does it suggest that this council may well wreak havoc and shackle the people of this beautiful space with crippling debt for generations when what they should be doing is (a) preserving assets; (b) going about their business prudently in order to create much-needed employment and generating revenue; (c) consolidating the operations of council by redevelopment of the existing Chambers in accord with the Government Architect’s original plans; (d) working on a public/private partnership to develop CITY HILL for the benefit of the people in accord with the covenant on the title of that land and securing Grants available for that purpose (which they are unable to do for the proposals in Gordon Street); (e) disclose their intentions on the BUSINESS ENTERPRISE PARK at the airport; (f) publish the valuation by Savills; (g) publish the Quantity Surveyor’s report and assumptions; and (h) publish their rationale for spending $2 million dollars of ratepayer funds on the Gordon Street proposals when council knew (as early as 2012) that Grant funding was needed to assist with the creation, operation and maintenance of an Arts precinct. Selling off the farm is never in anyone’s interests. It should only occur in the most desperate of circumstances. When it does occur it is always a TRAGEDY.
    Janne C Lindrum

  3. Selling off the farm is never in anyone’s interest. It should only occur in the most desperate of circumstances. When it does occur, it is always a TRAGEDY. Janne C Lindrum

  4. Approximately 25 -30 years ago, the then City Council General Manager, Mr Jeff Wright, invited me to his office to display preliminary Architect’s drawings of a possible ‘Performing Arts Centre’, intended for ‘City Hill’. It was to be ‘A Light on the Hill’. He was most enthusiastic and I can only assume that the budget made it difficult to proceed at that time. What is so much currently needed is a variety of ‘option proposals’ alternate to what is so forthrightly rejected by an overwhelming number of Coffs Harbour citizens.
    Surely Councillors, this is not asking too much when considering the long term beautification of the City, future population growth and CBD planning, intelligent use of existing purpose-built buildings, the cultural grant funds ‘available’ and those that that will be expected of ratepayers. To be a little more ‘expansive in our thinking’ is the only responsible way ahead.

  5. “A Light on the Hill”. How truly MAGICAL. I think that is just what Coffs Harbour needs. When you were shown these drawings, Kenneth, the Council appears to have been making statements like, “we can’t do this or that because financially we cannot afford to do this or that in the absence of Grant funding from the State and/or Federal Governments, nor can we afford to operate or maintain as our financial future is looking not just insecure but tenuous!”. As you state, EXPANSIVE THINKING – maybe THINKING – or – THINKING & REFLECTION – is what is required at the present. Let’s hope and pray EXPANSIVE THINKING is the road taken and we are not forced, sometime down the track, to reflect on the road not taken.
    Janne C Lindrum

  6. I’m beyond being surprised anymore. This Council lost its way with the appointment of the current General Manager. There is now just a constant stream of evidence of manipulation, conniving behaviour, secret partnerships, privatisation of Council activities, misrepresentions to ratepayers, blatant favouritism to supportive community sectors, and the list could fill a page.

    Now we find Council selling out the public to cover up financial mismanagement. Not to mention the abuse of public asset sales to fund new council buildings with no justification.

    I see little alternative but for the Council and the General Manager be dismissed. This is a litmus test for our new and former state members.

  7. Riki Bekker

    Has anyone seen the story on page 5 of the Advocate today? The one that has the Mayor stating she had to cancel her holiday to sort this out?

    It’s interesting, because I’ve heard a rumour councillors offered to put dealing with the rescission motion off for a month so she could go on holiday but she said ‘No’. Has anyone else heard this?

    Also I suspect strongly that the Mayor does not know the law.

    My understanding is that the OLG will not step in if there is another walk out or lack of quorum . Breaches of the Code of Conduct are outside their responsibility apparently. I’ve been told it is up to the GM to handle the matter.

    Is there a bit of deliberate misinformation at play here?

    Lastly has anyone heard talk that the OLG may indeed well be looking at the CHCC? But that it is not along the lines that the Mayor has suggested in that Advocate article today?

    • They are using Coffs Advocate ( which is a biased publication owned by Newscorp) too spin the story & look for the Sympathy vote.
      We all know Mayor Denise Knight does not know a lot ….and is the Puppet by Ventriloquist GM Steve McGrath.
      I have listened to every Audio Meeting online that Mayor Knight has chaired. She is always being corrected by Cr Keith Rhoades and HANDBALLS everything to GM Steve McGrath to answer.

      This man loves POWER & CONTROL as the secret whispers revealed and talking too council staff past & present.
      Having followed the Social Media comments on Coffs Advocate Facebook site and talk on the Street…they are being flogged and digging a deeper hole for themselves too fall on their swords.
      Also the Coffs Coast Advocate nominated Mayor Denise Knight as the Coffs Coasts Most influential Person on the 21st of July 2018 and GM Steve McGrath as numer 2 !!!!
      As Donald Trump says….FAKE NEWS!!!! You only have too see that Coffs Coast Advocate has lost all credibility and totally biased with its covering of this Civic Cultural Building.
      Thankyou to Coffs Coast Outlook for its journalism and fact driven articles.

      Regards Max

      Regards Max

      • Ninety Nine

        Add to everything you’ve correctly stated Max, the morale of this Councils’ staff is at an all time low. The confining atmosphere with the ‘do as you’re instructed’ style of management, must make it one very unhappy place to work. No wonder people leave and become Consultants (of sorts).

  8. Prarire Rose

    Want a bet the federal Government told the Coffs Harbour City Council to ‘rack off’?

    It takes a lot of ‘front’ and sheer chutzpah to go to the government that gave you the land at cut rate price for cultural amenities and essentially ask to be allowed to abuse that priviledge and make a big profit so as to build a ‘cosy palace’ for yourself!

    And now they reckon they will get State and Federal government grants for a new building containing Council Chambers? Tell them thay’re dreaming!

    This council has ‘more front than Mae West’ as the old timers would say.

  9. Do I think we a have been manipulated? Yes, indeed I do! We are being bulldozed into a situation that has been a set up for years by the looks of it! Enough, this farce must be paused (at the very least) for further discussion and examination of facts?

  10. Look at how well Council handled the Fishing Club debacle, and still hasn’t a long term tenant!

    • The fishing club since being left vacant… has been used to deal ICE the young people have told me. An Absolute Disgrace!!! It was a local Fishing Club for God sakes!!!
      When you see boots over the power lines it is a sign that this is a drug spot. Also if you hear fire crackers …it’s a signal that fresh batch of Ice has hit the town they told me. The homeless are the Ears & Eyes of this City and no what goes on. Just like Human CCTV.
      A Bloody Disgrace …time to Bring in ICAC & The Administrators too flush out the toxic culture at Council.

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