1 May 2020

Council gets green light for aquatic and leisure centre in Batemans Bay

| Michael Weaver
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People cheering in a pool in Batemans Bay.

In November 2017, around 120 people turned out for Pack the Pool in Batemans Bay in support of a 50-metre pool. Photo: Supplied.

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.

Plan of Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre.

The plans for the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre. Photo: Supplied.

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.

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Jeff de Jager4:28 pm 02 May 20

The mayor’s quotes assume the green light has already been given by council but their last resolution was to assess the project’s affordability when the tenders are in.

The capital costs are largely covered by the grants but any loan repayments and the on-going ownership – mainly depreciation, maintenance and insurances – and nett operational costs are another matter! These latter costs, i.e. the amount of subsidy council will have to kick in, are the ones that will determine the project’s affordability.

Can’t see at this stage these will be less than $2-3 million additional to current levels. If as the mayor’s quotes say the project would have been unaffordable back in 2017 with a much lower cost, how will this one stack up? (No business case for us hoi polloi to see remember!)

The rage needs to be maintained!

Patricia Gardiner2:41 pm 02 May 20

A multimillion dollar development without community support because the community is not getting what it asked for – a 50m indoor heated pool and a performance space is what the community has been seeking for over a decade.
All major decisions around this project were made without consultation, although we were given the opportunity to comment on minor issues.
Why was the Bowling Club site been removed from the footprint so that the entire development had to be squashed into half the space?
Why are council’s plans for the Bowling Club site being kept secret?
Why will council not disclose the ‘cost blow out’ amount?
Why will council not tell us what community facilities will be sold off to pay for the ‘blow out’?
Why has council decided to include a Gym when there are at least 4 in the Bay already.
Why can’t we see a an updated revised business case as council was advised to do by Minister Constance.
Why does ESC refuse to listen to its community?
Are Eurobodalla ratepayers going to be stuck with a VERY expensive ‘white elephant’?

Coral Anderson2:06 pm 02 May 20

‘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”.” Mayor Innes has already flagged a rate rise for the next financial year. This is despite the fact that council already overcharges for water & sewer rates, resulting in a ‘surplus’. And where is the provision for future expansion?

Michael Peters9:44 am 02 May 20

The growth of towns provide beautiful things for locals and visitors alike. The overall cost in this project must not impact the rate payers to the extent of increased rates or services in other areas such as parking or maintenance to the facility. This project must be self sustainable. The other questionable decision is to take the chance to house 50 meter events and instal a 25 meter pool is upsetting as once done closes the door on that.

We need to change our Mayor who seems to have a very private agenda . 50 metres pool not 25

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