11 September 2019

Time running out on contentious Batemans Bay Aquatic Centre debate

| Ian Campbell
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Around 120 people turned out for the Pack the Pool event in Batemans Bay in November 2017 arguing for a 50m pool to be retained. Photo: Fight for Batemans Bay 50m Pool Facebook.

Around 120 people turned out for the Pack the Pool event at Batemans Bay in November 2017 arguing for a 50m pool to be retained. Photo: Fight for Batemans Bay 50m Pool Facebook.

The opportunity to provide feedback on the three concepts for the new Batemans Bay Regional Aquatic, Arts and Leisure Centre ends this Sunday.

Eurobodalla Shire Council has been running a drop-in kiosk at the Batemans Bay Village Centre and an online survey since early January.

The three concepts presented to the community were created by NBRS Architecture, and include the same elements laid out in three different ways.

All layouts include an aquatic centre with a 25-metre, ten-lane pool with ramp access, separate 10m warm-water therapy pool and spa, freeform indoor leisure pool, that includes learn-to-swim and toddler areas, water-play splash pad, waterslides, gym, group fitness and wellness area.

The arts and cultural centre will be a large flexible, flat floor auditorium with retractable seating for up to 500 people, plus dressing rooms, green room and storage, gallery / exhibition space and storage, rehearsal / dance studio / music room, ‘wet’ arts workshop space and storage, ‘dry’ arts workshop space and storage, meeting and multi-purpose rooms.

The total project is worth $51 million, of which Council has secured about half via the NSW Government. The Commonwealth has indicated its willingness to provide the balance once a detailed business case is assessed; that process is underway.

Part of the community discussion to date has centred on the size of the indoor pool, lead by the ‘Save Batemans Bay’s 50m Pool‘ group.

Some have characterised the discussion as being hostile and perhaps the victim of the current electoral cycle.

That aside the views of the community are currently being sought.

“We were aware at the start of this project that some members of the Batemans Bay community wanted a 50-metre pool. That’s why we specifically asked our consultants to consider the provision of a 50-metre and a 25-metre pool when providing their advice to Council,” a council spokesperson says.

“A 50-metre pool would cost approximately $6.5 million more to construct, and $300,000 more per year in ongoing costs. Given the additional costs, it is likely that the warm-water program pool or the learn-to-swim area would need to be sacrificed if a 50-metre pool was included. This would limit the facilities available to meet our community’s needs.”

Speaking with Region Media, ‘Save Batemans Bay’s 50m Pool‘ spokesperson Maureen Searson says those pushing for the retention of a 50-metre pool are feeling ignored.

“It is a backwards step, taking away a 50-metre pool, how is everyone going to fit into a 25-metre pool?” she says.

“This is coming from public money, it’s about providing for the whole community.

“We will continue to keep an eye on what’s happening, a lot of people are talking about this issue.”

Carolyn Harding, from the Batemans Bay Indoor Aquatic Centre Committee, says from her perspective there is a “very positive vibe” around the project.

“We have been consulting with the public about this since 2003, Council has been speaking to all the user groups for some time, I think the consultation has been pretty good,” she says.

“There are people coming in now and hearing half the story and running with it. The people who are being very vocal now haven’t been interested prior, it has never been a secret that the 50-metre pool was going to go.”

Ms Harding suggests that political interests have muddied the waters, a point Ms Searson, a former Labor candidate for council rejects.

“This money is coming from our taxes and comes back to us through political processes, we can’t separate those two issues, this is about providing for the whole community, it’s not fair to label this as political,” Ms Searson says.

Carolyn Harding believes a wider section of the community will be able to use the new aquatic centre compared to the existing outdoor pool and says “lap swimmers and swimming carnivals will be well catered for.”

According to Council, “The 25-metre pool will comply with the International Swimming Federation’s short course competition requirements, making it capable of hosting regional and NSW age events. All of Council’s swimming centres are currently used for carnivals and many local schools use Moruya’s 25-metre, eight-lane pool for school carnivals. Long-course events can be held at Narooma’s indoor 50-metre pool year-round.”

“The total pool surface area is proposed to increase from 665m2, the current 50m pool, to 1202m2 based on the concepts.”

Region Media understands there is no appetite amongst Councillors to revisit a 50-metre pool option despite the recent community debate and that Council is keen to finalise the design.

Ms Harding says the Indoor Aquatic Centre Committee has raised some concerns with the three concepts currently being exhibited, “we’d like to see more of the outdoor areas come indoors.”

Council says around 180 online survey’s have so far been completed along with an unknown number of paper surveys. The comment period closes Sunday, February 17, head to Council’s website for more info and to take part.

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Jeff de Jager6:46 am 15 Feb 19

Contrary to Ms Harding’s statement, the removal of the existing 50 metre pool and its replacement by a 25 metre pool was news to the wider community until earlier concept plans were released by council. Principal user groups such as the swimming club were not consulted or advised of the downgrading until these earlier plans were made public. Since then there has been widespread opposition to the proposed removal of the Olympic length pool from the Batemans Bay area. Council has maintained that to replace the existing pool like for like would be too expensive to build and to maintain despite contrary advice of qualified experienced pool designers who have offered concept plans showing how a 50 metre pool could be accommodated without additional space or removal of any features. Council has ignored the more affordable alternative concepts and has refused to release their further costings and details of grant applications despite the grant authorities approval to do so.
The dissatisfaction with the proposed development is not confined to its aquatic features. The arts and community users of the existing community centre (which is to be sold off) have been offered fewer and much smaller spaces for their activities and have pointed out the problems likely should an event be staged in the 350 seat auditorium when only limited parking spaces are available for sharing with other users – community groups, pools and gym – at the same time.
There is also consternation around the development because the council purchased the old bowling club site in 2016 supposedly for an iconic gateway development yet the controversial arts and aquatic development isn’t even on this site!

Owen Cartledge6:33 pm 01 May 19

Carolyn Harding. Yes it was not a secret that we were going to lose a 50m pool . you are right here. But it was a secret that the replacement was to be 25m pool. When this was revealed a number of people became very interested. They do not share the positive vibe that you do. Surely this is fair enough.

The so-called ESC community consultation has been flawed from the outset, simply because our duplicitous and deceptive Council HID from the community the fact that a new aquatic centre WOULD NOT INCLUDE a 50m pool.
By the time the original concepts were drawn up by OTIUM Planning, in 2017, the hapless councillors were painted into a corner. The local community has never been asked “Would you prefer a 25m, rather than a 50m pool and would you be prepared to suffer a small rate increase if a 50m pool were to be built?”


So, now, ESC is choking on its own rhetoric and will suffer the consequences at the next local government elections.
Mayor Innes will be run out of town on a rail – and rightly so, hopefully accompanied by her dumb unthinking henchmen.

Unfortunately, by then it will be too late to change the plans. The first earthworks should have commenced by then.

A sad time for democratic process in the Eurobodalla.

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