Willow Court handback moves closer

SIX members of the Derwent Valley Council tonight endorsed a plan to negotiate the transfer of the whole of the Willow Court site back to the State Government. During a debate lasting more than an hour, Councillor Jim Elliott agreed that his own motion to hand back parts of the site was deficient, and he endorsed an amendment put forward by Cr Judy Bromfield.

Cr Bromfield’s amendment followed a failed bid by Cr Barry Lathey to defer consideration of the handback proposal until October. Cr Damian Bester said he was opposed to any handback but he wanted to see the matter resolved now rather than in several months’ time. Cr Bester said also cast doubt on Premier David Bartlett’s offer to take back Willow Court, referring to it as a desperate pledge made at a time when the recent State Election campaign was not going well for the government. Cr Bester said he had emailed the premier and every Labor Member and candidate for Lyons, asking for more information about the proposal, and no-one but two unsuccessful candidates had responded.

Putting forward his proposal to defer consideration until October, Cr Lathey said respect ought to be shown to the recently-established Willow Court working group. In particular, he said time would be needed to digest the recommendations of a report due to be completed by heritage consultant Malcolm MacDonald by the end of July. Cr Lathey said Cr Elliott’s proposal to hand back parts of the historic site was going against the grain of recent progress made at Willow Court.

Cr James Graham said the council had created the process that was now being explored, and the logical conclusion was to allow the process to reach a conclusion.

Cr Jim Elliott said the council should never have become involved in the redevelopment of Willow Court. He said that under council ownership historic buildings had been destroyed, opportunities lost, and about $2 million lost. Cr Elliott said he had been advised by the mayor and general manager that Willow Court occupied 60 per cent of their time and angst.

Cr Bester said he was sympathetic to Cr Lathey’s proposal to defer consideration of the handback, but his own preference was to see the matter resolved now.

Deputy Mayor Craig Farrell said he had taken on board the remarks of Crs Elliott and Bester, and his opinion was that the council should retain responsibility for Willow Court while establishing an authority to manage the site. He said the timing was wrong for a handback and was not in favour of the idea.

Cr Narelle Molan-Hill said there was no guarantee what the government would do with Willow Court. “They could leave it and do nothing,” she said, adding that she would like to see the results of consultant MacDonald’s work.

Closing debate on his amendment, Cr Lathey said he hoped councillors would support his deferral plan, adding that he wanted Mr MacDonald to be able to complete his task. Cr Lathey said the new Willow Court working group – of which he was a member – had every reason to feel bewildered that its main purpose was to be removed.

When put to the vote, Crs Lathey, Graham, Molan-Hill and Shaw supported the deferral, and Crs Bester, Elliott, Farrell, Bromfield and Evans opposed it. The amendment was lost.

Cr Bester then spoke to Cr Elliott’s motion, which he described as “deficient” as it did not clearly indicate which parts of the site were being referred to. Cr Bester’s lengthy address can be read on his blog.

Cr Bromfield then moved her own amendment, which was as follows:

1. That council negotiate the transfer of the whole of the Willow Court site to the State Government on such terms and conditions that are satisfactory and in the best interest of our community and that take into account the business plan for the site by Malcolm MacDonal and Associates, that is adopted after consultation with council and the Willow Court and Barracks Working Group Special Committee.
2. That after satisfactory negotiations for the transfer of the site to the State Government, the Willow Court and Barracks Working Group Special Committee is to be the link between the State Government and the Derwent Valley Council to ensure the business plan and development plan adopted by the council and the Willow Court and Barracks Working Group Special Committee is implemented in a timely manner.

Cr Elliott then acknowledged that his own motion was deficient. He would support Cr Bromfield’s amendment but was concerned about the implications for the oval space, which the council had recently decided to sell for an extension of New Norfolk’s commercial precinct.

When put to the vote, Cr Bromfield’s amendment was supported by herself and Crs Evans, Elliott, Graham, Shaw and Molan-Hill. Crs Lathey, Farrell and Bester were opposed. The amendment then became the substantive motion and was carried by the same 6-3 margin with Crs Bester, Farrell and Lathey dissenting.

  • Among the observers in the packed public gallery were former mayor Tony Nicholson, who Cr Elliott described as having lost his seat because of Willow Court, and new Lyons Labor MHA Rebecca White, who Cr Bester indicated was one of those who had not responded to his email about the government’s Willow Court promises.

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