LOCAL NEWS & VIEWS

Community land - being sold for a bargain?

Council will consider the community consultation findings and the next stage of its Asset Sales Program (Tranche 3) at the Ordinary Meeting on Tuesday 27 July. Yet the basis on which they intend to sell the land has now raised community concerns, with its lack of transparency.

The Oasis Centre Wyong - one of Council properties listed for private sale to the Salvation Army.

23 July 2021

ALAN HAYES

 

COMMUNITY consultation on the proposed properties for sale ran from 30 April to 28 May attracting 1,333 submissions and 611 direct emails and letters from the public.

 

A council report recommends the sale of 19 sites, identifies one site that requires further investigation, and 19 sites to be removed from consideration completely. Yet, the question that needs to be asked, why aren’t the properties going to auction? In a current real estate market, auctioning those high value properties may well have quickly negated the need for further rate rise.

 

Council Administrator, Rik Hart said that “balancing community and stakeholder interest with financial imperative was going to be difficult when it came to the decision about these property sales”.

 

“I understand staff are recommending that some properties with high levels of community concern be removed from sale all together, such as the Homeless Youth Refuge and Cubbyhouse site at Rumbalara, the Umina Mall car park, and the two sites at Blackwall. Other properties are being recommended to progress to the next stage such as reclassification or sales with specific conditions attached to them,” said Mr Hart.

 

“For the operational classified properties that are recommended for sale, I need to be able to assure the community of the benefit of this in the long run. Any sale will not be for less than the market value as determined by an independent valuation.”

 

Yet not surprisingly, private deals have already been made for the sale of a number of the land parcels. Deals that may well benefit the purchaser and not ratepayers. Although land is to be sold at market value, auctioning those parcels of land may well see a higher return. Again, why aren’t the properties going to auction? Or have the negations just been another mates deal?

 

The sale of a number of other properties is subject to an ‘executed Deed of Option to Purchase Agreement” and subject to providing owner’s consent to lodge a planning proposal over the said lots. If the planning proposal is rejected or the bottom falls out of the market at a future date, before the purchase is implemented, the purchaser can pull out of the sale. This type of arrangement gives little guarantee in solving Council’s immediate financial crisis and would foist the problem, in accordance with Mr Hart’s thinking, back onto the ratepayers. And already the cracks are opening up in Council's land sale plan. Wyong Golf Club, who had set a deal with Council for the purchase of land and which the golf club was seeking to develop, has now fallen over even before next Tuesday's council meeting. The golf club was advised yesterday that their development application was not approved, despite the fact that on 8 July were told it would be endorsed.

 

Council property sales were identified as one of the key measures in contributing towards Council’s success in obtaining the $100million loan and the proceeds of all sales will go towards repaying some of the $200million unlawfully used restricted reserves.

 

Yet, Mr Hart is now claiming that in three years time Council could potentially be facing an annual income loss of $25million as determined by IPART and that some of the service reductions the community is vocalising now will worsen.

 

It's not that there isn't the money to be had. There is around $400 million in the sewer fund gathering dust. Had the Berejiklian Government allowed the Council to borrow from this fund not only would it have negated the need to commit to a commercial loan, it would have let the Government off the  hook, who have already forgiven the council's need to repay $60 million of the restricted funds used and seen ratepayers as not having to be the scapegoat.

 

Not surprisingly though, Rik Hart is already preparing his submission to ‘screw-over’ Central Coast ratepayers further, because he hasn’t accepted IPART’s three year cap on the 15% rate rise and claiming “Council may yet again find itself in a dire financial situation”.

 

IPART set goals for Council through the Administer to meet, ensuring their future financial viability. Yet Rik Hart’s medieval approach is  to treat ratepayer’s as Council’s serfs, bleeding them of every last cent to pay for the incompetence of council staff.

 

No doubt Mr Hart’s comments in a recent press release, “Council will consult with the community about the next special variation of rates submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) later in the year,” will again be met with community resistance. Every Central Coast ratepayer should now consider a formal complaint to IPART over Mr Hart’s disregard for the fact that they are hurting financially and not his personal milch cow.

 

So, why hasn’t the Council Administrator exercised due diligence in determining the sale of community assets to endeavour to maximise a return for ratepayers? The urgency to reach $60 million of asset sales was overridden by the previous administrator  Dick Persson’s resolution on April 13, “That Council authorise the Chief Executive Officer to explore inclusion of 4 and 10 Warren Road, Warnervale and 140 Sparks Road, Warnervale into the draft Airport Masterplan and to suspend the sales of these land parcels until the Airport Masterplan is finalised”.

 

The combined market value of 4 and 10 Warren Road and 140 Sparks Road would surely have made up a significant portion of the required $60 million asset sales target.

 

Central Coast Council should remove itself from the commercial risks involved in pursuing the development of a general aviation hub at Warnervale. It is not the core business of a local government. The airport could be sold as a going concern or as land for development. The latter, according to Council’s own consultants SGS Economics and Deloitte Access Economics, would serve the community far better developed as an industrial zone.

 

So, why is it that the Council continues to waste ratepayer’s money on uneconomical pet projects and the community is expected to bear the burden of their ineptitude?

 

Council’s Ordinary Meeting of 27 July 2021, which will deal with the sale of properties, will commence at 6.30pm and will be conducted online. VOICE YOUR CONCERN! For more information, search ' Council Meetings' at centralcoast.nsw.gov.au

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