Ratepayers and citizens of Coffs Harbour probably noticed a brochure in the mail with their council instalment two rate notice this week.
Jan Lindrum considers what was in that brochure
In the nearly four years I have lived and paid rates in the Coffs Harbour LGA, only this week have I received a Rate Notice with an enclosures brochure relating to the Gordon Street proposals.
Last year, I paid rates on two properties, yet I had no knowledge of these proposals until a banner went up around the Gordon Street site earlier this year.
Now, to the brochure itself.
Let’s find the facts.
Question 1 on the brochure asks: “Will rates increase because of the Cultural and Civic Space Project?
The answer is carefully worded;
“No. This project has been planned and budgeted for in a way that isn’t anticipated to result in rate increases or put the Council under financia stress”.
The operable words here are “isn’t anticipated”.
Curious, isn’t it, that, on the night Councilor Rhoades put the recision motion forward, not one single councilor knew;
(a) the quantum of borrowings;
(b) the interest rate on those borrowings;
(c) the term of the loan, and;
(d) the details of the lender.
Yet seven of the eight councilors voted in favour on 11 July 2019.
Question 2 asked; “How will the Cultural and Civic Space benefit local business?”
Answer: “Increased workers during the construction phase”.
How many jobs? Wait for it – 500 apparently!
Where is the evidence? Are these 500 full-time equivalent jobs or something different? Council doesn’t say.*
In addition, increased tourism in the local area will directly benefit local businesses with Council estimating 400,000 people will visit the new Cultural and Civic Space each year, i.e. 1,095.89 visitors per day! Where is the economic study to substantiate these numbers?
Only 37 car spaces plus the 162 the Executive say they are going to negotiate from the purchaser of the existing chambers are allowed for in the proposal so far. The average cost of constructing a car space in NSW $73,000.00. This amounts to $11,826,000.00.
This figure does not appear to be included in the $76.5m Council says the new proposal will cost.
How much is the Executive hoping to rake in from the sale of the existing chambers?
And who, other than locals, will want to visit a library, art gallery and museum in a cramped and congested space?
These numbers simply cannot be justified.
Editors note; We ran an article on this back in July that I wrote. The Coffs Coast Outlook argues the claim of 400,000 visitors per annum does not stand up to scrutiny.
It may be that visitors to Council Administration are included in the figure. If so then that is a repetition of existing traffic and adds no economic or other benefit.*
It is, however, important to take special note of the tourism numbers and, indeed, of the statement that “the local area will directly benefit local businesses”.
You see, the Minister’s Office, via the Office of Local Government (OLG) argued that;
(a) Councillor Adendorff’s assets were a considerable distance away from the Gordon Street proposals; and, at any rate;
(b) there was no way of knowing whether or not he would stand to benefit.
Well, Councillor Adendorff’s assets are not a considerable distance away. Councillor Adendorff’s assets are in the area designated by this Council as “CORE CBD”; and
Councillor Adendorff is the secretary and public officer of the Chamber of Commerce; a body that has actively promoted and marketed these visitation statistics and the promise of “prosperity”.
Editors note: If the OLG is right on this does it not ipso facto mean that they do not accept arguments put forward by both the CHCC and the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce that the proposed Cultural Centre and new Council Chambers will directly benefit local businesses?
Question 3 asks; What is the anticipated tourism benefit?
Answer: Similar projects in other cities have generated a significant increase in patronage, with detailed analysis estimating an $8.5 M uplift in tourism spend.
What did these projects consist of?
What did these projects replace?
Did these projects flow from public/private enterprises?
How much parking came with these projects?
How many jobs were created by these projects?
How was the revenue generated?
Where can we review the evidence of these comparable studies?
What supporting tourism infrastructure did these cities already have in place?*
Question 4 poses this question; “Why not just refurbish or upgrade existing Council properties?”
The answer to this question is not only absolute rubbish in my opinion as it is deceptive and misleading and note the use of the word “refurbishment” rather than the use of the word “redevelopment”.
Redevelop: develop again or differently.
Council stated “The cost of refurbishing existing properties is not competitive when compared with building a new, bespoke space that can incorporate multiple cultural and civic amenities and more useable space for community.”
Editors note: No figures have been provided to support this claim in the flyer that went out with your rate notices. We also note that the multiple cultural amenities do not include an Entertainment Centre. This was an amenity which Mayor Knight campaigned hard for in both elections that she ran for as Mayor.
Question 5 is; “What are the environmental credentials of the proposed design?”
The – note – schematic design, which should read “UN-COSTED SCHEMATIC
DESIGN”, does not wrap around a fig tree, the annual maintenance cost is enormous and I am at a complete loss to understand how it minimise energy use given all the glass?
Question 6 asks; “What benefits will this new space have for the local community”?
Answer: With a focus on digital literacy, the new library will cater to students of all ages. The art gallery and museum will mean our local history, heritage and creativity can be showcased in the one location allowing locals and visitors to emerge themselves in our proud history and vibrant artistic community.
There are a few problems here;
(a) There is overwhelming evidence that students learn best in open spaces. Gordon Street is a cramped and congested space,
(b) There is also overwhelming evidence that PERFORMING ART FACILITIES lift the intellectual bar. There are no performing arts facilities in the Gordon Street proposals and if these proposals proceed, performing arts facilities will become “unaffordable”. Thus this project robs the community of the facilities they need and so richly deserve,
(c) There is no growth here for expansion of council operation so it is highly likely that, over time, one of two things will occur. Council will be forced to leased space for council operations or, alternatively, council will be forced to lease premises for the library, gallery and museum.
Question 7. The final question is the piece-de-resistance: “Did Council consult with the community on the Cultural and Civic Space?”
The answer is inherently dishonest. This brochure is coming to me as a fait accompli not as an invitation to consult. Further, the Master Plan has only just been posted to council’s web site. It is through the Master Plan process that the community are invited to consult and meetings “in the normal course” are publicly advertised and held in community spaces, .e.g. a Town Hall.
15,000 signatures on a Petition and 730 plus Objections to the DA for the project are very strong evidence in my opinion that consultation was not carried out “in the normal course.” And this brochure doesn’t count as consultation either as it comes to you and I as a ratepayers, “after the event” and not “before the event”.
Not only is proper consultation “before the event” what should be the normal course of events, it is also the appropriate, ethical and moral course.
What’s more, it is the only course that can ever be “in the best interests of the people”.
Editors note: Outlook published an editorial that covered this issue earlier this week. In it we noted 223 people had been consulted.
Of those 80, or 35.8%, were Council staff.
Although there are many fine people who work for Council, and more than a few who probably share community concerns on this issue, it is questionable that they constitute a representative sample of the community as a whole.
*additional comments by Editor.