Maria Taylor reports from new council’s first meeting and aftermath
At the September council meeting, Mayor Tim Overall and election team A, with the help of two unquestioning Palerang-based councillors, Schweikert and Hicks, and two Queanbeyan-based councillors, Brown and Noveska, ticked and flicked approval for a new $57 million council headquarters building and environs.
Almost immediately thereafter, the vision appeared to crack.
As General Manager Peter Tegart explained, the proposed six storey building with underground parking in what is now the Q carpark could only proceed with a major tenant helping to pay for it (along with more than $35 million in external borrowings).
It has been common speculation that the NSW police were the proposed tenants for two of the building’s floors and parking. It was later confirmed they were approached by council. The QPRC administration believed it had a promised deal.
Then the proposed tenant spoke up, implying to local media that the police did not want to move, not there at least.
Police Commissioner Michael Fuller was reported as saying that Queanbeyan Police had no desire to leave their current premises. “My priority is to have [the new station] next to the courthouse because that’s what police are telling me.” NSW Police cast doubts over new council building, Elliot Williams, Queanbeyan Age, 28 September.
Police station hostage to electoral politics?
Overhauling the current police headquarters on the corner of Monaro and Lowe St next to the courthouse has been a political talking point for more than two years.
The same news report had Deputy Premier and member for Monaro John Barilaro (who is viewed as the conduit for state money for the project) saying no decision had been finalised.
“What is absolutely clear is that we are going to have either a brand new purpose built police station in a new location, or a brand new purpose built police station on the current site,” he was reported as saying.
Meanwhile QPRC councillors were informed the deadline for finalising the new police quarters is before the NSW state election in March 2019. Calling the whole affair a political football, Labor candidate for Monaro Bryce Wilson said the NSW government should get on with it and build what the police want, where they want it.
QPRC in talks with senior police management
QPRC General Manager Peter Tegart, who drove the plan during the administration phase, told the Bulletin he is not worried by all this talk in the media. He said the police are just doing due diligence and that he was told by a senior police official “don’t go away”.
Three members of the council were more restrained on this vote. Pete Harrison, Peter Marshall and Kenrick Winchester all expressed reservations about a rushed vote saying that while in principle they saw the need for a new council headquarters and the plan looked nice, there were still unanswered questions.
Particularly for the Palerang councillors, five days was too short to examine a massive proposal and its cost structure (including the idea of borrowing some $11 million from the water and sewer reserve). But they were overruled. (In context, the new Palerang council chambers cost just $2.6 million to construct.)
The other two ex-Palerang councillors – Liberal Party nominee Mark Schweikert and Trevor Hicks, now Deputy Mayor – quickly jumped into line with Mayor Tim Overall and his team (Peter Bray, Trudy Taylor and Michele Biscotti). Hicks called for the vote saying “It’s a lot of money well-spent for the future of Queanbeyan.”
Focus on downtown Queanbeyan redevelopment
This first council meeting was indeed focused on Queanbeyan development, starting with the new headquarters precinct with privately-developed apartments across from the library, better linked to the central CBD and river with walkways and green space.
The interim administration’s idea has been that new building development will bring new people, jobs and business into the centre of town.
Councillors also agreed to call for expressions of interest for a multiplex cinema on council-owned land – a repeat favourite idea of Queanbeyan council, and touched on a new sports arena at Jerrabomberra.
Peter Bray, who appears to be the Overall team’s (frequently annoyed) front man, told the ex-Palerang councillors, “It’s all part of the [long-standing] masterplan vision for downtown Queanbeyan. A massive document. You won’t get your head around it in a hurry (anyway).” [So just say yes, appeared to be the message].
Proposed progress on Team A’s infrastructure election sweeteners headed the council meeting: Upgrading Resch’s Creek low level crossing to the Rossi area (which may be in funding competition with fixing the Foxlow bridge); straightening out Burra Road S bends; finish-sealing Summerhill Road in Bywong, (all three projects underway with the previous Palerang council). Also a bus shelter for Googong.
How do we pay for everything?
A decision on council finances, the so-called resourcing strategy that balances services and rates, (with a 1% rate increase in years 4-10 of the new council, mentioned), was deferred for further workshopping.
This harks back to critical audits pre-amalgamation, finding that neither Queanbeyan nor Palerang alone, let alone together with all their road and maintenance responsibilities, were ‘fit for the future’ without either services dropping or rates increasing or elements of both.