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John Mobbs - 27 February 2018

John Mobbs made the below comments at the Ordinary Council Meeting 27 February 2018.

Good morning Mayor, Councillors and others in attendance.
My name is John Mobbs and I have resided in the shire since 2007.
I am a ratepayer and I currently live at Malua Bay

My purpose here this morning is to table and speak to a set of resolutions formulated at a very successful public meeting of 120 citizens at the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club on 15 February 2018.  The meeting took place under a banner of "Our Town Our Say" and ran for almost 2.5 hours. l agreed to act as MC, in a volunteer capacity. The meeting was organised by the team called "Save Our 50-Metre-Pool" in order to exchange information and community views on the mooted Mackay Park Aquatic Arts and Leisure Centre at Batemans Bay.

Council is to be applauded for seeking potential external funding of $46.3 million to create such a Centre.  It has potential to become a gateway development that will serve the interests and needs of many in the community. Hopefully, it will also be a tourist drawcard.

Council should not be applauded for its limited, incomplete and poorly targeted consultation on this proposal.   On 29 August 2017 and under considerable time pressure, councillors were given only two concept options. Neither option included refurbishment and retention of the existing 50-metre swimming pool.

Refurbishment was not addressed in the August 2017 Final Draft Report of the Otium Planning Group. Discussion of a 50-metre pool in that report focuses on a new pool, for which a construction cost estimate of $6.5 million is suggested. The main reason appears to be that Otium interpreted Council's Draft 2016 Aquatic Strategy as precluding a 50-metre pool.

  • Does that Strategy still have "Draft" status?  If not, perhaps it can be reviewed?
  • Does the Otium report still have "Draft" status? If not, perhaps Otium can be directed to examine the economics of refurbishment and re-use?

The existing 50-metre pool is a valuable community asset that is well-loved and well-used, except in winter - either because it is not covered or else not open. Even so, there is now a considerable and growing degree of disquiet in the community at the prospect of losing it.  Several user groups, who were originally supportive of the proposed new Centre, withdrew support, once Council's full intentions finally became clear. Other user groups were not consulted at all, in the first instance.

Denigration of the existing pool on the basis of its age and maintenance costs has not been matched by disclosure of the information that Council claims underpins  its decision to demolish it.

  • Council has claimed:  "To include a 50-metre pool would have weakened our business case..." Further explanation was not forthcoming. Refurbishment and re-use might have strengthened that Business Case, reducing costs.
  • The Mayor wrote that:  "we believe a 50-me/re pool is no/ affordable or justified at this time." No further details were provided to support that belief.
  • Councillor Pollock, on 29 August 2017, said:  "there's no way in the world that a community of Batemans Bay can support an indoor, heated 50-metre pool. All of the figures that have been given to us,  in terms of construction, and operating and then, supervision, make it just not a proposition in any way, shape or form ... and  I certainly wouldn't be voting for a 50-metre pool,  I tell ya ...." Just which figures he was referring to is unclear but the words "refurbishment cost" cannot be found in the Otium report, so it is unlikely he was referring to that.
  • An Otium representative, having been asked on 29 August 2017,  if a 50-metre pool would fit within the proposed Mackay Park development footprint, responded that Otium hadn't done detailed design - it would require re-design - but broadly, it would be able to be accommodated.
  • An FAQ sheet re-issued hastily by Council in February this year, removed any reference to Otium, and stated:  "the existing pool is ageing and would need to be removed or replaced at additional cost." One wonders how many councillors and staff would remain in this room, under a Council policy of replacing everything older than 52 years that looks a bit tired!

Interested citizens have asked for the factual information backing Council's claims but they appear to have been met with stonewalling, obfuscation, delay and indifference. Members of the "Save Our 50-metre Pool" team have taken to social media in frustration and have also been dogged in requesting reports that presumably support Council's demolition stance. They are now suspicious that the relevant information may not support that stance - or may not even exist.  Council has the means and the opportunity to defray those suspicions, by releasing the requested reports ASAP, rather than continuing to play games around the timeworn "Commercial In Confidence" bogeyman.

For the meeting on 15 February, an alternative concept plan was produced, with a 50- metre pool where Otium had proposed a 25-metre pool. This was to demonstrate, in a simplistic manner, that the Otium response as indicated above was valid. It was acknowledged that professional, detailed design work would be necessary to properly prove that alternative concept using the existing 50-metre pool. Otium just has to be told to do it.

The meeting was characterised by concern, constructive suggestions and common sense - but it was not without a bucket of criticism for the way that Council has behaved on this issue since August 2017.  One councillor attended.

An overwhelming majority voted for the resolutions as put and amended, with a view to them being forwarded to Council for consideration.  There were only 5-6 dissenters in the room. At least one representative of Council's Sunset Committee was present. One of the resolutions would involve a rescission motion for Council.

The editor of The Beagle attended the meeting and has provided comprehensive reportage, including the resolutions and a copy of a letter received from Mayor Innes that I decided should not be read aloud, due to timing constraints - but it was tabled there for public scrutiny.

History has shown that councillors attempting to represent their constituents by putting Notices of Motion onto the Council meeting agenda can be browbeaten and subjected to intense pressure by Council staff and other officials. The organisers of "Our Town Our Say" are aware that this has been the case with one councillor's recent but unsuccessful attempt to have the resolutions included in today's formal Council meeting agenda.

  • Surely such behaviour is not tolerated within a supposedly democratic system?
  • Does the tail wag the dog here?
  • Is the Office of Local Government aware that this is common practice?
  • Is that same Office aware of how frequently this Council employs a veil of secrecy or confidentiality, to conceal controversial or unpopular decisions?

Councillors, please add these resolutions to the official public record on this vexed issue, so that those from the Community who attended the meeting can be assured that "having their say" was not a waste of their time.

Please reflect on these resolutions and think again about what is being proposed at Mackay Park, what is possible and why the option of refurbishment  and re-use of the existing 50-metre pool, within an integrated Aquatic, Arts and Cultural Centre, was not considered nor referred to Otium.

I have already provided the resolutions as well as my credentials, on the reverse side. Thank you Mayor, Councillors and other attendees for your forbearance.

That concludes my remarks.

Council's reply

I would like to thank you for taking the time and effort to contribute to the public access session however I believe there needs to be some clarity in regards to a number of the matters you raised.

The 2016 draft Aquatic Strategy was prepared by Otium Planning Group as part of their contract to develop a business case and concept plan for a regional aquatic and arts facility, rather than the suggestion that “Otium interpreted Council’s Draft 2016 Aquatic Strategy as precluding a 50-metre pool”. The brief provided to Otium specifically required them to make recommendations regarding whether the facility should have a 25m or a 50m pool. A copy of this brief was also given to Ms Coral Anderson of the Fight for Batemans Bay’s 50m Pool group.

The second concept option prepared by Otium was undertaken at the request of the Mackay Park Sunset Committee (Sunset Committee). At the Council Meeting of 23 May 2017, it was resolved to authorise a contract variation in accordance with the Sunset
Committee’s request, to compare the cost of separating the aquatic and arts components into two facilities. On 29 August 2017, Council resolved to proceed with Option 1, being the combined facility.

As the existing 50m pool only has six lanes and does not meet current pool standards, it would require demolition and rebuilding, rather than refurbishment. In order to use the 50m pool on a year-round basis, it would also need to be heated and preferably indoors. The business case prepared by Otium outlines the additional cost to construct and operate a 50m indoor pool. This is the information that the Mayor and Councillor Pollock relied upon, in reference to the two quotes you attributed to them in your presentation.

In reference to the reissuing of a FAQ sheet in February 2018, in which the reference to Otium was removed, the FAQ sheet was reissued to provide the latest information to the community. Over time, the FAQ sheet will continue to be updated to reflect the latest
information. Any element of the FAQ sheet that is removed from the hard copy, remains available to the community to read on Council’s website.

With regard to the pool condition report by Brown Consulting, Council has consistently advised the members of the Fight for Batemans Bay’s 50m Pool group that there is a copyright issue with this report and we are awaiting written advice from the company, now called Calibre, as to the status and release of the copyright.