Letter to the editor

FOLLOWING the debacle of the Willow Court public forum and the inaccurate report of that week’s paper, I not only felt ashamed to be part of the council but like the public needed answers. On demanding the figures for the RDH development I spent 10 hours plus analyzing the contents. It became very clear why the figures have been kept secret. They show very clearly a case of “commercial incompetents” not the “in confidence” they keep speaking about.

The ratepayers have a right to know as we are responsible for carrying the can if and when the funds run out. There are two ways this can be looked at. Firstly the manner under which the council has operated and that was to do all the inquiries and investigations to ascertain what is there and what condition the site is in. They now feel in a comfort zone that future sales in the pipeline will pull them through and with government help will provide a paying project. That is fine but if we get the appropriate sales through and if the government’s help! We need both state and federal to contribute to make it a worthwhile project.

The facts is there were limited funds from day one and those funds should have been used to secure the asset. Anybody buying property is urged immediately to insure the asset and secure it. If we had securely locked down the asset then we could have then made more adequate investigations as to its future. Knowing its size they knew that additional help was required and they could have negotiated more strongly with the governments as how we could move forward.
What then did happen? They did not secure the asset and the council made approaches to persons who they thought would have the financial assets and sold the main portion of the assets to them. History knows the result of that effort. Then as soon as they got the funds they didn’t secure the balance. They went on a spree of investigating and obtaining reports. This may have seen to be the right thing but alas while this was happening again the site was left to be destroyed. Common sense says they should have protected the asset.

The big question is why did the council persist in attempting to sell in its own right when there were and still are several very competent real estate agents on the town who may have produced a far better outcome than what has now evolved. They may have saved several thousand in commission but cost the project millions. Instead of a good and positive outcome we have a pitch patch of private ownership that is slowly trying to develop their patch. We have access issues due to the refusal of the council to take responsibility for the roads in the site. This now leaves several buildings without proper access. I as a councilor at the time of subdivision pointed out that the council should take responsibility for those roads and was told they only had to have a frontage onto a public road and they all had that, even though they cannot access their properties from them. I did later oppose the acquisition of those roads as you can not change midstream when someone has already purchased the property with the roads. Not only is it ethically not correct it would have cost the council a lot of money at that stage as the owner was not agreeable. The current private owners are also having huge vandalism problems and this would have been avoided had the council at the time taken the right steps in the first place to secure the assets. And guess what: the cost of restoration would have been minimal in comparison to what is required today.

The project was doomed to failure from the outset. The funds they got piece meal $2,238,000 or there about required a commercial urgency if it was to be any where near adequate. However the lack of common sense and commercial understandings seen a long protracted program that has now seen $2,235,451 or there about spent and the public are rightly saying what have we got. We have a group of derelict buildings that each day has more added to a restoration bill.

What did they spend the money on? Would you believe 53.3% or thereabout has gone to administration! That is over $1.1 million gone to administration. That in anyone’s language is incompetence. Since 2002 about $136,000 has been spent on security. And that was not all with recognized security firms. I would suggest that in 2002 a system to cover the whole area and secure fencing would not have cost more than about $180,000 and that would have included temporary power supplies. In the last couple of years vandalism has gone through the roof and guess why? We have spent just over $10,000 on securing the site or should I say “playing at” securing the site. The reduction in security has seen the increase in vandalism.

The Federal and State Government grants were not spent as it could be seen that if they were it would have left the community with an ever increasing cost starting around $50,000 per annum. The fact that the council voted to attempt to sue the Federal Government was a total farce and both Councillor Parker and I spoke strongly against such a silly move. Cr Evans voted with us but the other six councillors voted to go ahead. The result was the matter had to be withdrawn after wasting more money on impossible action. Although there has been public condemnation and mystery as to why the government grants were not spent I can tell you now that is probably the only sign of common sense in the project. It has avoided the ratepayers from footing an ever increasing bill.

Where to from here? The horse has bolted but we should now move to secure what is left of the buildings and shut the project down until both governments and council can work out a suitable plan for the proper and financially viable outcomes of the site. Alternatively put it on the open market and see if there is a suitable purchaser out there for the balance of the site. We do now have all these extremely expensive reports. If marketing the project is the outcome then we should look at the end result rather than the monetary gain as it is more important to have the site restored with local employment rather than a developer going broke and an unsightly mess. The council should step back from the marketing project and give it to the professionals.

Councillor Jim Elliott
Candidate for Mayor

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