Arts hub victory

Jackson Lavell-LeeBusselton Dunsborough Times

City of Busselton councillors have voted to support the Busselton Entertainment Arts Cultural Hub development and quash two motions to reallocate $9.5 million of State Government funding to Busselton Jetty Inc’s Australian Underwater Discovery Centre.

Debate has raged in Busselton since the City wrote to Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan and Transport Minister Rita Saffioti to redirect $9.5 million from the Busselton Margaret River Airport to the BEACH development.

Residents, including former mayor Ian Stubbs, questioned the direction of the funding suggesting it would be more prudent during the COVID-19 recovery period to invest in the AUDC due to the jetty’s exemplary record in attracting tourists.

On Wednesday, Cr Sue Riccelli moved to reduce the cost of the BEACH development to its original estimated budget of $20.7 million and to prioritise State funding, if indeed it was committed to Busselton, to the AUDC.

“If our original business case was approximately $21 million and all the tenders came in above this price why at that point did we not reconsider our position, review the current economic climate, consider changing our design or consider asking the community if they wanted us to spend an extra $10 million?” she asked.

“Why is it, that currently we are working on next year’s budget and we have been able to reallocate, refine, review and refrain from over-spending except when it comes to BEACH.

“I guarantee if you ask the current community only a handful would agree to spending 30 mill at this time.”

Councillors Kate Cox, Paul Carter, Phil Cronin, Ross Paine, deputy mayor Kelly Hick and Mayor Grant Henley all spoke against reducing the cost of the BEACH development.

“The BEACH has been an integral part of our community’s wants developed through a City arts and cultural needs analysis commissioned in 2012,” Cr Carter said. “Costs of the BEACH blowing out does concern me but previous figures have been estimates. They have been indicative budgets at given points in time as the project has evolved and matured in design offerings and functionality.”

Cr Hick said Cr Riccelli’s motion was setting the project up to fail.

“If we keep with the original budget, we’ve heard the word substandard and we need to look at the ongoing needs. Let’s look at futureproofing this and make this not a white elephant, this is not a small project, it has been looked at and looked at as to the way we can optimise this project,” Cr Hick said.

Cr Riccelli questioned why, when writing to State ministers, there was no push to guarantee spending in Busselton.

“It gave the State Government a way out of something they never wanted to be part of,” she said. “My concern is we are repurposing the funds in order to stimulate a severely damaged economy, however, putting all of our eggs in one basket. We are choosing a project which should not have been overcommitted, that is using estimated projections for revenue and expenditure in an unstable market.”

Mayor Henley said he would not support writing another letter to the ministers advocating the funds be directed to the AUDC.

“I take offence to you suggesting that councillors weren’t informed before making a decision,” he said.

He said Cr Riccelli was absent from the briefing where councillors decided to ask the State to redirect funding to the BEACH.

“Councillors were informed in the updated briefing from the BEACH working group of the increased costs,” he said.

Cr Hick said councillors wanted both projects.

“The most disappointing thing about the motion is it almost sets up an adversarial situation here about projects within the City,” she said. “We absolutely support the AUDC so the us-against-them thing is so unfortunate and not where our heads are.”

Both motions were defeated 8-1 and councillors voted to support the BEACH 8-1.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam questioned the value the project to ratepayers.

“In light of the last council election where 60 per cent of sitting councillors who sought re-election failed in their bid, it illustrates the fact that the City needs to listen to their ratepayers,” she said.

“It’s good to see there is some differing of opinion at Council with the motion proposed by Cr Riccelli which questions the City’s decision to favour civic amenities over good economic management, at a time when these facilities are competing with private investment as well as the high demand for community sporting needs.

“The optimal numbers in the original business case predicts this venue would attract more events than the Perth Concert Hall average or on average 540 visitors per day, which is extraordinary.”

The average ticket price at the BEACH is estimated at $65 per head.

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