I have conflicting feelings about the latest twist in the Willow Court story.
I have always said Willow Court should not have been sold by the government in the first place. It should have been been declared a National Park like Port Arthur and appropriately developed for visitors.
That said, I'm not in favour of the council handing back Willow Court at this time. In the months since my election to council we have taken the necessary steps to have Willow Court open to visitors by the end of May. We are reviewing and updating 10 years' worth of planning. We have established the Friends of Willow Court to introduce community participation.
If anything, the government's record of caring for the site is just as bad as the council's. The first local attempts to turn Willow Court into a museum date back to the 1960s but nothing came of it and the barracks in particular continued to deteriorate while under various government ownership.
I have led the criticism of the council's handling of the site in the past, but we are finally making progress and the majority of councillors have endorsed this new thrust. I fear that returning the site to the state will only further delay the preservation and redevelopment of Willow Court and surrounds.
What I find particularly galling is that Mayor Martyn Evans has allowed one councillor's position on Willow Court to override lawful council decisions. It seems all of our plans have been thrown to the wind following a short meeting with the premier, which I was unable to attend. I am most disappointed at this turn of events and appalled that I had to learn about it at a public meeting without being briefed by the mayor beforehand.
Ten years ago this council took ownership of Willow Court without asking if that was what the community wanted. Now after wasting about $2 million with no discernable result, it is proposed to give the site away without asking if that is what the community wants. I really expected better from this mayor.
This situation also brings into question how the council can in good faith interview potential purchasers of the oval precinct tomorrow, when on Sunday we may no longer own the site.
Councillor Damian Bester
(this statement was issued to the Derwent Valley Gazette earlier today)