A $55 million project for a regional arts, aquatic and leisure centre on the site of the Batemans Bay pool has resulted in cost blowouts, allegations of a lack of community consultation and possible rate increases.
At the centre of the project is an ongoing debate about whether Batemans Bay should get a new 50-metre Olympic standard pool or a 25-metre pool.
The Eurobodalla Shire Council’s bold business plan for the site includes replacing the ageing 50-metre outdoor pool with a 25-metre eight-lane pool that could operate all year. The new pool area would include a warm-water therapy pool and spa, freeform indoor leisure pool with learn-to-swim and toddler areas, water-play splash pad, waterslides, gym, group fitness and wellness area.
The plan for the art and cultural centre includes an auditorium with seating for up to 500 people, a ‘wet’ arts workshop space for pottery and painting, a ‘dry’ arts workshop space for drawing and textiles, as well as meeting and multi-purpose rooms and amenities.
The existing visitor information centre would be relocated to the site, while a cafe and associated retail and administration offices are also included in the plan.
The current plan does not have room for the Batemans Bay Mini Golf, which has a lease on the land that expires on 30 June 2022. Council said on its website it is negotiating with the owners to acquire its lease so “the development can proceed in the most efficient way”.
The former Batemans Bay Bowling Club site is also not included in the plan. It was acquired by the Council from the Catalina Country Club in 2016 and has laid dormant since.
Opponents to the project have told Region Media that the community is not getting what it wants, given that a new 50-metre Olympic pool and a heated indoor pool were included in the initial plan for the site in 2016.
To fund the project, Council secured $26 million from the NSW Government in March 2018 to go toward building the centre. A further $25 million was granted from the Commonwealth Government’s Regional Growth Fund in April 2019. Council will borrow a further $4 million after initially costing the project at $46 million.
Retiree Jeff de Jager of Coila near Tuross has followed the proposal for the site since its inception and has presented a number of submissions during the planning process. He says Council is using commercial-in-confidence as an excuse for not releasing its business case for the site that “could be an expensive financial burden on all the shire’s ratepayers”.
As community submissions for the site close today, Mr de Jager said time has all but run out for people to have a say on the project. An independent Southern Regional Planning Panel will assess public submissions before Council can submit its development application to the NSW Planning Panel.
“Council has been able to tick all the boxes with this,” Mr de Jager said.
“I got involved because how can you have a town like Batemans Bay having to step down from having a 50-metre pool to now ask people and swimming clubs to go and use the Narooma pool (also 50-metre), which has as many structural issues with it as the Batemans Bay pool did.
“Our council has been bloody-minded by refusing to properly engage with the community, particularly the most relevant user groups like the swimming clubs and schools and the performing arts group,” he said.
Peter Coggan of Malua Bay has been equally vocal about the project and voices that opinion on the Our Town Our Say Facebook page for concerned residents in the shire.
He labels the project as a farce from the beginning, with Council now scrambling to earmark an additional $10 million from the sale of community-owned assets to build something that has been scaled back from the initial plan.
Mr Coggan said the project offers undersized pools, a learn-to-swim pool that is too shallow, a theatre space with no demand and an oversized gymnasium in a town that already has six gyms.
Both Mr de Jager and Mr Coggan feel Batemans Bay is losing an opportunity to have a facility and a 50-metre Olympic pool that will serve the town for generations to come.
Further, they are concerned that the developer, Otium Planning Group, rushed its strategy and assessment documents in February 2017.
“I try to be altruistic about the project, but I would hate to see Batemans Bay lose its 50-metre Olympic length pool in what is the most populous town in the shire,” Mr de Jager said.
“Sure, there is a trend to have 25-metre pools but that means we also lose people to other towns such as Ulladulla or Narooma where 50-metre pools exist.”
Council says it expects construction to start in mid-2020, opening in early 2022.
Region Media put a number of questions to Eurobodalla Shire Council and is awaiting a response.