A development application for the controversial Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre at Mackay Park has been given the green light with the first stages of construction tendering to begin as early as this week.
The project, with an estimated cost in excess of $55 million, was met with considerable objections from the community when first announced in 2016. The majority of objections centred on a whether Batemans Bay should get a new 50-metre Olympic-standard pool or a 25-metre pool.
Many sections of the community, including the Batemans Bay Swimming Club and a number of local schools and community groups, have also raised concerns about the possible loss of the current 50m pool, with the nearest pool of that size being south at Narooma or north at Ulladulla.
In February 2018, Eurobodalla Shire Council mayor Liz Innes told a community meeting that “a 50-metre pool was not affordable or justified”.
Mayor Innes said the new centre would be designed in a way that allows for future expansion, however current plans fail to show how this would be possible.
The mayor also said a 50-metre pool would have undermined the strength of the centre’s application for funding, and that ratepayers had “absolutely no appetite in the community for the delivery of the centre to come off the back of a rate increase”.
A three-member Southern Regional Planning Panel unanimously approved the development application on Thursday, 23 April for the new facility that will replace the existing 50-metre outdoor pool with an indoor multi-pool aquatic centre and a 350-seat performance space, joined by a gallery walk that will also house a visitor information centre.
Lodged by Eurobodalla Shire Council in October, the development application process was delayed by bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. The NSW Government appointed an independent planning panel to determine the application because the council is the owner and the value of the development exceeds $30 million.
Plans for the adjacent vacant site of the former Batemans Bay Bowling Club remains unclear, with Eurobodalla Shire Council not answering Region Media‘s question on whether the site, purchased by council for $2.7 million in 2016, would be sold to help fund the project.
The site is currently being leased as a site office and equipment storage area for construction of the new Batemans Bay bridge.
Council secured $51 million in NSW and Australian government funding for the aquatic and leisure centre project in 2017. Plans were developed by NBRS Architecture in collaboration with a project steering committee and user groups.
“The project steering committee and user groups deserve huge praise,” said Mayor Innes. “It’s been a long journey for all of them.”
She said that after the community had an opportunity to provide feedback on three different concept layouts in early 2019, the path is now clear for the construction tender to be released.
“We shortlisted building companies last year to tender for the work as soon as the DA [development application] was approved, so we’re ready to go,” said Mayor Innes.
“It gives us certainty in uncertain times and I’m very pleased. We hope to see a preferred builder recommended to council in late June or early July.”
Mayor Innes said subject to that process, demolition of the 50-metre pool and Batemans Bay’s iconic mini-golf centre should start in August.
“By early 2022, we’ll be swimming in our new pools and enjoying performances in the arts centre,” she said.
However, Coral Anderson from the Our Towns Our Say Facebook group said the project has not been met warmly after council gained letters of support from the community when the project was first announced, but those letters were recanted once plans were changed to demolish the existing 50-metre pool.
“The community wants council to be honest, open and transparent in all its dealings and to keep to its original promise that the Bowling Club was purchased ‘for the community’ on the understanding that a community facility would be built on this site in accordance with community wishes,” said Ms Anderson. “That is, two separate facilities – one with an 800-seat auditorium and the other with a 50-metre Olympic pool.
“Cowra Council has just been given the green light to build an aquatic centre with a 50-metre pool in a population of about 5800 people. Batemans Bay has a permanent population of about 17,000 which trebles during peak tourist periods.”
Ms Anderson said debate on the project is not quite over yet because it still must go before a full council meeting to determine whether the project is affordable.
Plans, project information and a virtual tour can be viewed on the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s website.