Small window of opportunity left for PAC to go on former school site

The next few days and weeks could be the last chance for sensible decision making in respect of the proposed (regional) entertainment/performing arts centre on Gosford waterfront.

Once sold, the school site will be forever lost for community use. As far back as 2006, Gosford Council identifi ed the waterfront as the ‘jewel in Gosford’s crown’ and the public school site as a possible location for a performing arts centre in the Gosford Waterfront Strategy 2006. During 2008-2009, Council and the NSW Government undertook extensive community consultation in respect of plans to revitalise Gosford CBD. The consultation process itself, The Challenge, won an award. The outcome of this consultation was the Our City Our Destiny masterplan, which was adopted by Gosford Council, endorsed by some 84 per cent of surveyed local residents, and endorsed by Mr Tony Kelly, Minister for Planning, on behalf of the NSW Government. Unfortunately, Gosford Council failed to carry that plan into its statutory planning regime (LEP + DCP) which opened the door to a new government to supersede Gosford Council’s planning powers using a 24-hour State Environmental Protection Policy (SEPP) to rezone the waterfront land and open the way for the mixed use developments we are now seeing.

Various interventions by government agencies, ego-driven mayors, CEOs and politicians have pushed and pulled the entertainment and performing arts precinct in varying directions, as have employment-generating promises made by unelected political hopefuls, the Central Coast Regional Development Corporation (CCRDC, a quasigovernment department under Planning NSW, describing itself as ‘real estate developer’) and Gosford Council. To the present: a small window of opportunity remains to achieve the community’s vision for an iconic entertainment / performing arts precinct on the former school site. That opportunity will expire in days or weeks, as soon as the NSW Government signs an agreement with a developer for the NSW Finance offi ces already approved (a DA creates no obligation to build).

I’m still hopeful that Council would take the initiative to site the entertainment / performing arts precinct on the remainder of the former school site. Late last week (March 31), Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Mr Scot MacDonald, said the remainder of the school site (ex DOMA / ATO) was still NSW government property and no deal had yet been done. That being the case, if it moved quickly, Central Coast Council could possibly negotiate purchase of the site at a ‘community use’ price in accordance with the Our City Our Destiny Master Plan. It makes little difference to the bottom line if Council pays for the school site (and gets much higher, drier land with much enhanced building potential) or ‘buys’ the Leagues Club Field site at a peppercorn price, then pays out mega dollars in additional construction costs, building on a reclaimed tidal swamp.

I am sure Council can negotiate a minimal-transfer-cost / community-use deal with the government, especially during a by-election. I know the history of building the rear offi ce section of the former BWCC building, hundreds of timber piles driven into the shale of the creek bed, then the Stadium’s large cost over-runs, especially for the footings for the lighting towers, then the Leagues Club extension back to Baker St, months of driving hundreds of 15m long concrete piles into the ground. An entertainment / performing arts centre is also likely to stimulate many creative jobs so that the economic driver of job creation is not lost to Gosford by this initiative.

The Central Coast is really blessed with so many people engaged in the creative arts. From a practical perspective, the project would be capable of being completed much more quickly on the former school site than on Crown Land, believed subject to an Aboriginal land claim. Those negotiations could go on for years and may well jeopardise funding from any of the three contributing partners. The issue of the location of the entertainment / performing arts precinct has been dragged around for ages and remains unresolved. Were Labor to strongly support the location on the former school site, I believe it’s highly likely that the Liberals would match that commitment.

Email, Apr 4, 2017 Kevin Armstrong, Tumbi Umbi

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