As community consultation closes, plans for the Busselton Performing Arts and Convention Centre have split the community, with vocal support and opposition being heard on both sides of the line. Last month, consultation on the multimillion-dollar project was opened after tenders for the project came in more than $13 million over budget due to supply and demand in the building industry blowing out costs. The survey has been mailed to 4000 residents and is expected to elicit a 10 per cent response rate, which will be analysed and collated by Catalyse Pty Ltd. An opt-in element was also opened to the community for passionate community members and to allow the younger generation the opportunity to weigh in. Deputy Mayor Kelly Hick said the results of the survey would be used to inform the council how to proceed with the project, and was never intended to be a referendum. “This whole survey is one component of our future decision making and will give us some guidance around that future decision making,” she said. “There’s been concerns that only 4000 people surveyed isn’t enough but ... by analysing the results, it will give us a 95 per cent confidence level that we are getting a representative sample of the community. “The results won’t be a raw data dump to council, they will be analysed in terms of demographics so they give us this confidence. “For example, if 50 per cent of the results are from a particular age group but they only represent 20 per cent of the population, then those results will be adjusted so they fairly represent the community.” As part of the survey, community members were asked whether they would want to see a modified design but retain a 603-seat theatre with a multi-purpose conference space. The inclusion of a conference space has been a point of contention for sectors of the community concerned it will only push up costs. Cr Phil Cronin said the conference room was a multi-use floor which would allow the centre to offer more than just a single theatre space. “To build any facility of this nature, it’s not mutually exclusive to one event or group, and really, to build a facility of this nature and function the way it is used is totally independent of the cost,” he said. “We have a space here that’s multi-functional so that if, for example, when dance competitions or showcases are on, the space can be used for multiple changerooms and rehearsal spaces, chairs can be packed away so the space is opened up, or brought in for an intimate space. “It might cost a little more to put these devices in, but if you took that whole floor out, then economically it is not so viable. “There’s currently 11 conferences per year in Busselton. In addition to that, there’s 617 community uses per year, so really it’s about having a community space for what we have and what we have the potential to have. “It’s not just for stage performances and sit-down conferences — we have versatility here and future-proofing the building for current and future ratepayers.” Cr Cronin said the addition of the multi-use space was a big part of feedback from other local governments which had built arts hubs over the past five years. “When we were in the development and planning stages I was very blunt with other councils. I asked what mistakes they made and what they would do again,” he said. “Having this kind of multi-use space was by far the largest response. “Populations are growing. “We live in the events capital of the region. We don’t want to look back in five years or have our children look back and have regrets.” City of Busselton finance and corporate services director Tony Nottle said with the large scale of the project and the community concerns, it was important for ratepayers to know the City was in a financially secure position, which would continue whether the project went ahead or not. “The financial position of the City is pretty healthy. When you look at our annual rates income, we have more than that sitting in our bank accounts and reserves,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way the ratios are calculated you cannot include them, so it makes it look like you actually do not have much money at all. “The fact of the matter is we put our money aside for the future costs we know we will have, so if something adverse happens in one of our assets we can fix it without having to raise rates or search for money. “There are concerns around borrowings and rate increases, but we factored this project into the long-term financial plan, so if council choose to go ahead with the centre, it will not raise rates. It just won’t.” With the community survey now closed, Catalyse will collate and evaluate the data to present to the council, which will reconsider the project in the coming weeks.