Local, Opinion/Comment

“Why I object to the Gordon Street DA” – Part 3 – An Entertainment Centre replaced by Council Chambers.

This is the third in a series of articles based on a 41 page objection to the DA application for the Gordon Street Cultural Centre and Council Chambers (CCCC).  Today the spotlight shines on the lack of a performing Arts/Entertainment Centre and the addition of new Council offices.

By Chris Bramley

For four decades or more, the residents of Coffs Harbour have requested and been denied a proper cultural/entertainment venue appropriate to a regional city.

As late as 2012 then Cr Knight was advocating a Entertainment/Arts Centre – at Brelsford Park or City Hill when she ran for Mayor. See link below. Photo – The Northern Star

We attach a series of historical articles authored by a veteran community leader and Order of Australia Medal recipient. The documenting demonstrates the community’s long-term quest and the frustrations by Council; they are currently being published on social media and are also attached.

In our opinion the Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) has consistently ignored the community request after selling the former Town Hall & Civic Centre to the Coffs Harbour Ex-Servicemen’s Club.

It has since used all manner of pretexts to portray to the community that it is dealing with the issue.

However, the Council’s inability to rewrite history exposes what can only be described as a persistent failure to deliver on its own Council approvals, initiatives, investigations, feasibilities and assessments. This begs the question why?

External influence on Council

We maintain these failures are due to:

  • lack of Council commitment,
  • ulterior motivations, and
  • unhealthy associations (‘pseudo partnerships’) with –

– the Coffs Harbour Ex Servicemen’s Club (a significant financial sponsor) and,

– vested interest parties including the Chamber of Commerce (source of future conforming Councillors),

– CBD property ownership group (provider of significant Special Rates to Council since 2000 for preferential treatment, which a reasonable person could confuse as a form of corruption).

From an external viewpoint, the city is controlled in our opinion by a central influential and wealthy group who orchestrate groups of potential Councillor candidates into like-minded cadres to leverage preference sharing and maintain the balance of voting power (majority) in the Council Chamber.

The evidence for these claims can be verified from the:

  • source groups of past Councillor candidates,
  • preferential treatment of the CBD zone to the detriment of other centres across the Local Government Area (“LGA”), including Sawtell, Woolgoolga, Park Beach, Coramba and Nana Glen.

More particularly, we point to the recent statement by Mr Raffety, the CEO of the Coffs Harbour Ex-Servicemen’s Club during Council’s 11 July 2019 meeting.

Unbeknown to the broader community, Council had supposedly been working with the club to develop an entertainment centre and were assisting with sourcing Government grants. Council obviously saw this avenue as a deflection and justification for excluding the performing arts space within the Cultural & Civic project.

The failure in this initiative lies in that the club will charge for every use of its facility and has already been known to refuse venue use. In no manner can a commercial club venue be considered in the same context as a publicly owned venue.

INCLUSION OF COUNCIL CHAMBERS/OFFICES

The community has never been approached directly for consent to the inclusion of Council chambers and offices into what was initially a holistic Cultural precinct.

On 27 May 2016, an article appeared in the Advocate newspaper stating:

Plans for a new central library and regional gallery in Coffs Harbour have taken a step forward with the establishment of a planning advisory group” and continues “The planning advisory group will provide advice and feedback on the plans and advise on community engagement and funding options”.

This advisory group was first appointed at Council’s 14 April 2016 meeting.

Council’s agenda for the 23 June 2016 meeting states:

Council endorsed the Terms of Reference of the LGPAG which amounted to the following:

  • Provide advice and feedback on the detailed facility research and concept planning project, including siting and prioritisation of facility functions;
  • Advocate on behalf of the community; and
  • Advise on the planning for community engagement and funding options and activities.”

The striking points from the above are:

  1. It is questionable as to whether this particular group had the relevant experience, capacity and competence to undertake the tasks required in respect of technical research and facility planning, and
  • The group failed to deliver two of its primary obligations, namely advocating on behalf of the community or advising on community engagement.

(Editors note: The names and expertise/background of the panel were provided in the objection to the DA by Mr Bramley. Full details can be found attached to the Council report “Cultural Facility Development – Library and Gallery Site Selection and Scope”, presented to the Council meeting of 23 June 2016)

Whilst these people are probably well-intentioned, it is noted that none have in our opinion any readily identifiable expertise or experience in planning, building design, or site feasibility.

It seems clear to us they appear to have been chosen by the CHCC due to their respective close association, allegiance or special interest that provides the Council with a false imprimatur to display to the general public. It is an approach designed to create the perception and confidence within the community that their interests are “in safe hands”, which in practice is misleading.

This approach has been used on multiple occasions in Council documents, press releases, Council promotional paraphernalia and media presentations.

Lack of Independence

Council meeting documents for both the 23 June 2016 and 11 May 2017 meetings indicate that Council injected the involvement of specific Council staff to influence the Library Gallery Planning Advisory Group.

In support of this claim, attached are:

a)            Council website document “Key Dates, Cultural & Civic Space 8 August 2019, with highlighted sections.

b)            The council report, Council meeting 11 May 2017, with highlighted sections.

The Cultural Facility Development – Library and Gallery Scope and Precinct Analysis (P.1) carried the LGPAP’s recommendation No:2 as:

“Adopt the scope of the Cultural and Civic Space project to include a new Council Chambers and Council staff office accommodation.”

The basis for the recommendation as referred to in the Analysis document was resolution No:3 by Council at its 23 June 2016 meeting to “Investigate mixed-use and civic (includes Council office accommodation) development in addition to a new central library and regional gallery on the 23-31 Gordon Street site.”

The LGPAP in our opinion was in no way independent of Council, evidenced by the Chair having to be a Councillor.

Similarly, the LGPAP appeared to make a valuable contribution in support of the Council’s premises within the Cultural project and yet failed to honour the two key social responsibilities under its Terms of Reference.

Failure to Deliver on Terms of Reference

Given there were only three Terms of Reference, a failure rate of 66% is unacceptable in our opinion.

However, in respect of the singular Term of Reference that the Panel did make an effort with we contend that they chose to go beyond its scope by endorsing the inclusion of Council offices. This in our view is obvious bias.

In real terms, the LGPAP can be described as having made a negligible practical contribution to the project, due to its inability to preserve independence.

You can find Part 1 and  Part 2  of this series by Chris Bramley at the two blue highlighted links in this sentence.

Editors note: Mayor Knight was strongly advocating a public Entertainment/Arts Centre centre at either Brelsford Park or City Hill in 2012 – See; https://www.northernstar.com.au/news/knight-still-champion-arts/1534117/

6 Comments

  1. Just to stir the pot. I also have, as a rate payer and resident for 47 years, followed with interest the progress of this project. I have changed my mind and needed to rethink on a couple of occasions. We do vote for councillors to represent us. The Cex club has been a great asset to the community. The town centre is looking pretty good these days. I believe the Gordon Street project as is will continue to improve the quality and prosperity of COFFS Harbour.

    • Chris Bramley

      Hi Marie, I’m intrigued as to how you think the Cultural & Civic project will improve the prosperity of the CBD, when what is offered in the new building is no more than what currently exists? Could you define “quality” in the context of the project?
      My final point would be the CBD has had millions spent on it (but nowhere near the total of special rates Council has received) and whilst there has been some beautification, it has had a steady, unabated decline that no amount of effort, focus, preferential planning, and inducements, has been unable to stem the decline.
      Outside of business hours it is deserted and no amount of artificial stimulation will yield any sustainable gain.

    • A well written article Chris Bramley. Thankyou for all you are doing and have done regarding this Cultural/Civic Space debacle.
      Yes Marie Moran ” We do vote for councillors to represent us”.
      You being a resident of the LGA for 47 years would no about the voting bloc of 5 to 4 over the years. They operate in alliances. We vote on their Election Promises but they get voted in then change their minds.

      https://m.whitsundaytimes.com.au/news/expectations-incoming-coffs-harbour-city-council/3088556/

  2. Ennio Bardella

    A very articulate summation of facts and opinions pertaining to the completely inappropriate sleight of hand the Coffs Harbour council and GM are trying to carry out on its citizens. No we do not need to spend a preposterous amount of our money/rates to build a monument to the vanity of this administration. The people of this town have spoken, with over 15,000 signatures in objection to the proposal. Enough! Back down!

  3. Also please read the comments from the LGA after the 2016 Sept Election Result. Click on comments on the below link. Very interesting reading of not only the article but 20 readers comments .

    https://m.gattonstar.com.au/news/meet-your-new-coffs-harbour-city-councillors/3090360/

  4. A great article Chris, we can only hope that the ‘authorities’ take notice.

    A special thank you to Outlook for including the very best full screen photo of Denise. A big improvement when compared to the R rated full screen photos of McGrath and McKinnon that you included in previous articles.

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