Town centre plan slammed

TEMPERS have frayed over the proposed multi-million dollar project to revamp Naracoorte's town centre precinct.

Cr Craig McGuire attacked the concept at a special Naracoorte Lucindale Council meeting last week, claiming that the council didn't have the money at this time for something that would "look fantastic - (but) we don't need it".

The special meeting was held to approve the release of the council's 2014-15 budget for public consultation - but Cr McGuire took exception to a $50,000 sum being included to plan for the project.

Back in March, the council released a rough concept plan for a new community centre - stressing it was only a concept - which would combine some of the council's key assets and services at the current site of the library and council offices - at a possible cost of up to $5 million. The underlying issue driving the project is that the public library needs major repair works.

Arguing against the allocation of $50,000 to plan for the project in the budget, Cr Damien Ross said he and Cr McGuire felt the timing was all wrong and there was no indication from the public that they wanted a major project like it to progress.

"There's concerns that we haven't gone to public consultation...I don't believe we've discussed this properly publicly," Cr Ross said.

"We've got a few things on our books at the moment that we need to keep on track," he added, going on to mention drainage and saleyards works as priorities. "It's an uncertain budget tonight and we're not sure where it's going."

CEO Helen Macdonald reminded councillors that any major cost impact wouldn't be immediate, and in her experience a project of this scope was likely to develop over a long period of time.

She outlined a four-stage development approval process which would probably be followed if the project was pursued, adding that it could take a number of years to play out.

"Approving $50,000 in the budget is not actually approving any construction," she said.

Mrs Vickery added: "It would take 12 months for the first stage...the whole thing depends on funding, it would only happen if there was grant funding somewhere down the track."

The mayor said Tatiara District Council took something like nine years to complete its new civic centre, so the cost could be spread over a long period of time.

"I just want people to be aware that we haven't made any decision on this," she said. "We have put it out and got a lot of responses - they haven't all been good, they haven't all been bad."

But an outspoken Cr McGuire was adamant: "We can't afford it. This building is not broken, it's the library that needs attention.

"I'd rather spend $400,000-$500,000 on the library, people don't want to see us spending into the millions (on a whole new precinct)."

An increasingly agitated Cr McGuire argued that once a large project got underway and the council started spending money on it, it was hard to get out of.

"Once there's $50,000 in tonight's budget, bang - that's the first nail," he said.

"It snowballs, you get caught up in the web. It becomes an emotional attachment to the project.

"I don't want to see a cent spent on it - as much as this would look fantastic, we don't need it.

"Take the $50,000 out and I'd like to see general discussion on the library - there are major issues there."

Cr Ken Schultz agreed with Cr McGuire, claiming that no one he had talked to wanted a whole town centre revamp.

He said: "All the feedback is 'What the hell do we want to do that for?'

"Let's pull that $50,000 out of the budget and put it towards the library."

But Cr John Flynn took the opposite tack, claiming that $50,000 for a "scoping study" covering the needs of the library as part of a greater town centre precinct was only a small amount of money over the long term.

He agreed with Mrs Vickery that the concept plan had been mistaken by the public for a finished document - "It's just a concept" - and said doing a full study was the sensible way forward.

He said any work on the library needed to "fit into the total picture of a focus area for the Naracoorte township".

Cr Ken Banning said his main concern was ensuring that any work on the library took into account how libraries would be used in the future, as books would be in less demand.

Ms Macdonald agreed, saying that a recent session she attended involving a former Adelaide thinker in residence suggested that "libraries with books are probably not what it's going to be about" in the future. She said education, and particularly further adult learning, could be a future focus of libraries.

Cr Trevor Rayner felt any available money should be directed towards finishing work at the saleyards and developing a bypass road concept, while Cr Ross repeated his call to put the project on hold as he felt it was 6-12 months too early considering the other commitments the council had.

Cr McGuire returned the debate to the process of consultation and asking whether people just wanted the library fixed, or the whole town centre precinct project.

He asked how much it would cost to produce plans to upgrade the library only, but to his frustration didn't receive a clear response. He said if the council did want to find out whether people supported tackling the major project, the consultation process should be simplified.

"We don't have to spend a large amount on it - just ask the simple question 'Do you want a new precinct?'"

Mrs Vickery responded that it would be pointless asking that question unless the council had spent the money on proper plans and costings so people could make informed comment.

"The problem is, we need some plans to go to the community with," she said.

"We've gone out there with a concept, but people have taken it as a nitty gritty.

"It is a catch-22, because unless you give people all the information you need, you won't get informed comment back."

But the majority of councillors agreed with Cr McGuire, whose motion not to allocate $50,000 to planning for a new town centre precinct was passed 8-1 by councillors. Only Cr Flynn voted against it.

- A visibly frustrated Cr McGuire stood and left the meeting immediately after it closed, saying he was "over it" and wanted to do something more productive with his time.

He later phoned the Herald to clarify his position - that he supported the library being fixed, but not as part of an expensive town centre precinct overhaul.