MORE than a decade into its failed experiment at Willow Court, the Derwent Valley Council last week decided to assume responsibility for another portfolio of surplus government buildings at New Norfolk. Without the benefit of a business plan or financial details, the council will take a two-year lease on the former Derwent Valley Business Enterprise Centre with an option to take ownership. As was the case with Willow Court, this has been done without consulting the community.
The council proposes to use the buildings for educational purposes. This is a worthy ambition and it could easily be achieved without taking on the enterprise centre buildings. The obvious solution is for the buildings to be vested in the Education Department. Unfortunately the majority of councillors opposed my proposal to have the council support the project without taking on more surplus government buildings.
One of the council's first bungles at Willow Court was its failure to appoint caretakers to ensure the security of the buildings. With this background, it is unfathomable that the council has had a hand in the eviction of the enterprise centre caretaker.
This is what I had to say when this matter was discussed at the August council meeting last Thursday night:
"Mr Mayor, it is indeed disappointing that a worthwhile project such as this has become mired in petty politics and personal attacks that have now extended to an individual being labelled as an illegal occupant.
"It does this council no credit to have been involved in a man's eviction from his home. In fact it has been that gentleman's ongoing presence at the enterprise centre that sees it in such sound condition. This is in complete contrast to the council's failure to protect Willow Court.
"I said last month that it is inconceivable that this council could consider taking on still more surplus government buildings. And I say it again. The notion is stark raving mad.
"Some councillors here continue to blame a previous mayor for the current problems at Willow Court and yet here we have a proposal to go down that road again. And, once again, there is no proposal to ask what the public might think about taking over more government buildings.
"And we are asked to make this decision without the benefit of a business plan, financial details or any kind of strategy to prevent the debacle of the Willow Court experience from being repeated at the enterprise centre.
"Mr Mayor, I am employed in an educational role and I support life-long learning. I support the use of the enterprise centre buildings for education and training and I support them being transferred to the Education Department for this purpose.
"Education is the responsibility of the State Government and this council has no need to become involved in the leasing or ownership of more buildings."
I then moved to following amendment, which was seconded by Councillor Barry Lathey.
1. That Council notes the proposal for RAFT, in collaboration with its partners, to continue to work toward providing an alternative education and training venue in the buildings known as the former Business Enterprise Centre.
2. That council supports the transfer of the former Business Enterprise Centre to the Education Department for use as an education and training facility.
3. That Council supports the development of the Business Enterprise Centre for a trade training centre.
4. That the Council urge the Crown to appoint an on-site caretaker for security purposes.
This was opposed by the mayor (Cr Evans), deputy mayor (Cr Farrell MLC), and Councillors Bromfield, Graham and Hill, which resulted in its failure.
Instead, those councillors voted in favour of general manager Stephen Mackey's recommendation that:
1. Council notes and approves the proposal for RAFT, in collaboration with its partners to continue to work toward providing an alternative education and training venue in the neutral space of the buildings known as the BEC.
2. That Council supports the leasing of the Business Enterprise Centre from the Crown on a peppercorn rental for two years with the option for the property to transfer to council for nil consideration for the use as an education and training facility.
3. That Council supports the development of the Business Enterprise Centre for a Trade Training Centre subject to Council receiving a grant for this purpose.
In speaking against that recommendation, I again reminded councillors that the report failed to provide a business plan, financial details or any kind of strategy to avoid a repeat of the Willow Court debacle. Cr Bromfield acknowledged there were no financials and said former education minister Lin Thorp had stated the Education Department could not afford to take on the enterprise centre buildings. I do not believe the council can afford to do so either.