Councillors play hard ball on squash courts project

A move by councillor Russell Fitzpatrick at the Bega Valley Shire Council meeting, Tuesday, May 1, to obtain funding for the proposed squash courts next to the Sapphire Aquatic Centre, Pambula Beach, failed after councillors voted down the motion to make an allocation of $225,000 from working capital towards the construction of the new courts.

The current squash courts are located at Main Street, Merimbula but the building is likely to be pulled down due to its poor state of repair leaving the squash club with no home.

Cr Fitzpatrick hoped that council would agree to make an allocation of $225,000 from working capital towards the construction of new squash courts at the Sapphire Aquatic Centre in the 2012/2013 budget, and then have the working capital fund reimbursed when the council-owned property where the current squash courts are located, in Main Street, Merimbula, is sold.

A group of community activists including local trades people who are offering their services, led by Daryl Dobson, of Pambula Rotary Club, hope to raise between the $250,000 and $300,000 that is needed to build the new courts at the Sapphire Aquatic Centre.

They recently received at $90,000 state government grant towards their goal.

Cr Fitzpatrick said that when the club is forced to leave its current premises, it will have no home and added that with the swimming pool and sports oval next to it, (at Sapphire Aquatic Centre) the addition of squash courts could be the start of a sporting complex for the area.

Councillor Paul Pincini said he fully supported the motion and added that there was an obligation to support the sport if the facility was being taken away. There was reference also to the plaque that was set into a rock close to the Sapphire Aquatic Centre in 1988, to designate the site of new squash courts. The plaque was unveiled by the then member for Bega, Russell Smith and world squash champion, and world record holder, Heather McKay.

Councillor Pat Campbell, probably with headworks charges in the back of his mind, then asked: “Are there likely to be any infrastructure conditions attached to any DA (for squash courts at the Sapphire Aquatic Centre)?”

Group manager planning and environment, Andrew Woodley replied: “Car parking is being closely looked at, and the impacts additional customers would bring to water and sewer services would add additional costs to the project.”

But Cr Fitzpatrick said that the current facilities in the Sapphire Aquatic Centre would be suitable for the 300 member strong club and the 150 members who regularly played the squash competition.

Councillor David Hede spoke against the motion and said: “To the best of my knowledge, no decision has been made on the sale of the property. This is a bit pie in the sky. There were four squash courts in 1987 and this was run by a private enterprise but council ended up with the squash courts by default. All this is a pretty long bow because it was never our intention to be running squash courts for the community at that time. The fact that $90,000 has been given with no plans in place and no DA almost suggests there is a state election in the offing.”

Cr Pincini responded: “In reality you’re saying it’s too bad, too sad but that shouldn’t be the angle this council’s coming from.”

Cr Campbell said he was troubled by the motion because there were a small number of beneficiaries. He also raised the spectre of “unknown infrastructure costs” and said: “If my memory serves me right that’s where we started with the pool at Pambula.”

There was a heated exchange between Cr Liz Seckold and Cr Fitzpatrick when Cr Seckold said: “The Pambula swimming pool community seem to think they’re entitled to have squash courts on their property.”

Cr Fitzpatrick was quick to his feet: “I don’t appreciate that comment,” he said and reminded Cr Seckold that a plaque designating the site of new squash courts at the aquatic centre was laid in 1988.

Speaking to the News Weekly after the debate, Cr Seckold said: “Council has given that centre quite a lot of money already. Just for a while people will have to travel to other comps.”

In voting the motion was lost when Crs Campbell, Hede, Hughes and Seckold voted against and Crs Allen, Fitzpatrick and Pincini voted for the motion.

Cr Wykes was absent and so was Cr Michael Britten who had left the room after he declared a pecuniary interest on the basis that he is a director of a company owning adjoining property in Main Street.

A motion foreshadowed by Cr Seckold that council receive a report on the Pambula Sporting Complex Masterplan including costings, feasibility study and the ongoing financial commitment required after completion, including proposed squash courts, with a view to developing the project as the major sporting facility in the southern area of the shire was won when Crs Campbell, Hede, Hughes and Seckold voted in favour, Crs Allen, Fitzpatrick and Pincini voted against with Crs Britten and Wykes absent.