Eurobodalla Shire Council has disputed claims made in a submission by a community group to an Upper House inquiry into the use of NSW Government grants.
Appearing before the NSW Public Accountability Committee’s inquiry into the Integrity, efficacy and value for money of NSW Government grant programs, the A Better Eurobodalla (ABE) group questioned the value of government grants for the Batemans Bay coastal headlands walking trail and Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre.
Council obtained $5.25 million from the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) Package, which is co-funded by the NSW Government and Commonwealth Government. ABE said the grant was given on the basis that the trail was a shovel-ready project vital to the economy.
“The project has not undergone community consultation or systemic assessments for environmental impacts, operational risks and cultural heritage impacts,” ABE told the inquiry. “Nor has there been a proper feasibility study specifying a definitive track route and scope of works as required under the BLER guidelines.
“Therefore, ABE argues the project cannot be considered shovel-ready. It is also highly unlikely the full walking trail proposal could be completed by June 2023, another BLER criteria.”
While the grant eligibility criteria stated projects must be completed by 30 June, 2023, there’s no mention of projects needing to be shovel-ready, although work must begin within six months of receiving the funding.
Council said it commissioned a concept plan for the walking trail in 2010, and that a detailed design for the first stage of work is underway, with construction due to begin in the first half of 2021.
Council also said the Eurobodalla Nature Based Tourism Feasibility Study 2019 identified the opportunity to drive the region’s visitation growth with the coastal headland walking trail.
ABE’s submission went on to argue that the Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre (BBRAALC) failed to “deliver on community consultation and value for money”.
“Under Eurobodalla Shire Council’s management, the existing 50-metre Batemans Bay Olympic Pool was demolished (to be substituted by a 25-metre pool) and the arts facility will contain a scaled-back 350-seat theatrette rather than the initially proposed 500-seat theatre,” said ABE in the submission.
“The first estimate for the BBRAALC project was $47 million, but this has now blown out to more than $70 million, with further increases possible. That means notwithstanding receiving $51 million in public funding, this project now presents a $19 million financial liability that will affect Eurobodalla Shire’s residents and ratepayers, compromising future service delivery and existing public assets.”
Council said it has budgeted $69 million for the project and has secured $51 million in grants from the NSW Government and Commonwealth Government.
Council also said the size of the theatre was recommended by experts for a community of Batemans Bay’s size.
“It’s the same [size] as the popular The Q theatre in Queanbeyan,” said a council spokesperson. “Performers would rather put on two shows than play to a half-empty house.
“The 50-metre pool is not being substituted with a 25-metre pool as claimed, but replaced by an aquatic centre that includes a 25-metre pool, warm-water therapy pool, learn-to-swim and program pool, plus four waterslides.
“Local government collects just three per cent of tax in Australia. We rely on grants from state and federal government to provide the facilities and services our communities expect. We stand by our funding applications and are grateful for grants we receive.”
ABE told the inquiry that funding to fix Araluen Road, upgrade existing evacuation centres and power and communications facilities, and the construction of new bushfire resistant community centres in villages would deliver more value for the bushfire affected area.