19 May 2023

Yass Council borrows $50m to build precinct, including new home for itself

| Sally Hopman
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Architectural drawing

An artist’s impression of the proposed Crago Mill Precinct in the centre of Yass. Photo: Brewster Hjorth Architects.

Yass Valley Council has voted to borrow up to $50 million to fund the refurbishment of the town’s historic Crago Mill site in a project that includes new council chambers and an administrative building.

Under the development application, the plan is to demolish the mill to make way for a single-storey public administration building and community library, two-storey office building and extra carparking. Space has also been allocated for a cafe, gallery and museum, a small business hub, public amenities and space for community groups.

The council selected Westpac as the loan provider after a competitive tendering process, adding that it would offset the $50 million loan through the sale of surplus land and grants.

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The choice of Westpac as lender drew community criticism following a decision by the bank in December last year to close its Yass branch.

In 2020, the council identified the Crago Mill Precinct as “shovel ready” – that is, everything was ready to proceed if grant funds were to become available. In the 2020-1 budget, it allocated $672,000 for the master plan and all necessary development applications. Also in 2021, the council invited the community to have its say on the master plan.

The plans went on public display last year and were assessed by the NSW Government’s Regional Planning Panel.

But the project has divided the community, with some residents questioning the decision, via social media platforms.

Comments surrounded why the council was spending money on building itself new offices when it would be better spent on cleaning up the Yass water supply, fixing the roads and bridges damaged by recent flooding or providing more services to people in need.

“Going to save the brownish foul-tasting water so I can bottle it and offer it as house/office warming gift,” one resident posted online when the loan was announced.

Man in front of old building.

Yass Valley Council general manager Chris Berry in front of the former Crago Mill. Photo: Supplied.

Other residents commented that there would be strict guidelines around what that money could be used for – that if it were designated for the Crago precinct, it could not be used, for example, to improve services at the Yass Hospital.

Another wrote: “Yes, we all know the roads need fixing. And the water is atrocious. And our hospital could use more funding. It would be good if people educated themselves about where the funding actually comes from for these projects before blaming everything on the council.”

Speaking after the original plans for the precinct were released last year, Yass Valley Council general manager Chris Berry described it as a “fantastic community asset”.

“Currently, existing facilities, such as the library and cafes, are spread across the town. Here, residents will be able to meet, eat, play, study, relax and gain access to important resources.

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“This is also really good news for council staff after the existing library and administration building were deemed not fit for purpose.”

The old flour mill, in Comur Street, was a major producer of bran, flour and other cereals in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is part of the Yass Main Street Masterplan and its proposed development has been some time in the making to help revitalise the historic town. During the Great Depression, the mill was converted into a rabbit processing and freezing works. Eventually, it was sold to Winchcombe Carson as a produce store, and the surrounding buildings were sold to Yass Valley Council. It remains recognisable as the old mill today, although the building was reinforced when the Aldi supermarket carpark was built next door.

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