Regional Performing Arts Centre blame game continues

A past artists impression of a possible Performing Arts Centre on poppy park. Image archive October 2015

Controversy continues to rage over stalled plans for a Regional Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) for the heart of Gosford, with Central Coast Council rejecting a motion from Councillor Greg Best at its October 8 meeting for an Independent Audit Investigation into its handling to date of a proposal for a Cultural Precinct incorporating an RPAC and Regional Library.

Councillors decided in September to put the Cultural Precinct project, which has already cost Council more than $4.17M in preliminary planning, on hold and push ahead instead with a Regional Library as a stand-alone project.

The move came following claims from Clr Best that overall costs for the project could escalate to more than $200M and a warning from NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, that delaying plans for a Performing Arts Centre yet again could see Council forfeit the $10M pledged by the State Government for the project in 2016.

Clr Best’s defeated motion was to refer the project to Council’s Audit and Risk Committee for investigation and analysis around how the current situation has been able to develop.

Clr Best also wanted the report to be released publicly, subject to legal advice, so ratepayers had a full and transparent understanding of what had transpired. “If we don’t take an objective position on this we are on the cusp of repeating history, ” he told fellow councillors. “The only people who will genuinely give us an objective opinion will be the Audit and Risk Committee. ” Councillor Bruce McLachlan seconded the motion and said Council had “rushed into” the project.

“We didn’t maximise our floor space ratio, we didn’t use our powers to put this site together properly; the staff can only do what we tell them to do, ” he said.

Deputy Mayor, Jane Smith, said rejection of the project due to not receiving a grant under the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund had played a part in the process.

She said Council staff had spent at least six months working on submissions for four projects, one of which was the Cultural Precinct, at the instigation of the State Government.

“We had a reasonable expectation of $50M-$100M for the Cultural Precinct and only later were we told we weren’t eligible for any money, ” she said. “That has been a game changer. ”

In an amendment to Clr Best’s motion, she called for the appointment of a Minister for the Central Coast, which was seconded by Councillor Doug Vincent. Councillor Jillian Hogan spoke in support of the amendment, saying she was fully supportive of Gosford being revitalised but councillors were very good at “blaming each other”.

“We don’t have the money to build (a PAC) because the State Government did a back flip on Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund monies, ” she said. “We need to move forward – we need to deliver a library. “Let’s deliver for the Coast and stop blaming each other. ”

Councillor Kyle MacGregor said he saw no point in “auditing the project team and harassing staff”. He called Clr Best’s original motion “smoke and mirrors” and blamed councillors’ vacillation for the situation regarding the RPAC. There was some debate over just which figures could be cited in public in relation to the project.

But officers were able to confirm in an answer to a previous question on notice from Councillor Jilly Pilon that over $4.17M had been spent on the Cultural Precinct project to date. This figure comprised: $1,211,965.02 on consultants; $2,437,549.53 on the purchase of 75 Mann St; and $525,000 on the purchase of 73 Mann St, but did not include any expenditure by the former Gosford Council on a library or performing arts centre.

Clr Best’s original motion was lost. Meanwhile, Council has confirmed that the preferred site for the much-anticipated Regional Library will be the Parkside site in Donnison St.

Source: Agenda item Central Coast Council Meeting, Oct 8