IT HAS been a destination of choice for generations of Hunter children, but staff at Lake Macquarie's two iconic Sport and Recreation Centres fear their days are numbered, with the Baird government considering “outsourcing” the camps to the private market.
The Newcastle Herald can reveal the state government has quietly been sounding out private operators to take control of eight of the 11 camps across NSW, including two in Lake Macquarie at Myuna Bay and Point Wolstoncroft.
The Minister for Sport, Stuart Ayres, says the government will not sell the camps, but an internal memo and "delivery model road map" circulated to staff and seen by the Herald confirms the government commissioned a report that identified "leasing" the centres "as providing the most favourable long-term return to government".
The memo also confirms officials from Office of Sport have met with private operators to discuss the option of leasing the centres.
The “road map” says the government will seek tenderers for the centres between August and September before presenting the proposal to Cabinet in October, however the Herald understands the minister may seek Cabinet approval first.
Mr Ayres’ office confirmed on Wednesday that the government is “investigating service delivery model improvements” for the centres, but wouldn't comment on when a proposal would go to Cabinet.
The move has angered Hunter MPs, who questioned what kind of “lease” the government was looking at.
Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper, whose electorate takes in Myuna Bay, wondered whether the lease “would be a 99 year lease like the Port of Newcastle”.
“I would use the term iconic, they're magnificent sites; Wolstoncroft is on an incredible part of the lake, and Myuna Bay too is so important for recreation and health programs,” he said.
“I would hate to see anything done to diminish them.”
Mr Piper said that while he had not heard anything about the sale until being contacted by the Herald, he had previously met with staff from Myuna Bay who were “nervous” about the prospect.
Swansea MP Yasmin Catley, whose electorate takes in Point Wolstoncroft on the east side of Lake Macquarie, said she was “disappointed and angry” that the government was considering handing the centres over to the private sector.
“Generations of locals, including myself and my family, have enjoyed the fantastic facilities that the sport and rec centre by the Lake has to offer,” she said.
“This government’s privatisation agenda has gotten completely out of control.
The Sport and Recreation Centres are frequently used by school camps and charities like Canteen.
They also run specialised programs for disadvantaged and under-represented groups, and Ms Catley called on the government to “guarantee that the facility remains a sport and recreation facility that is accessible to the whole community”.
Mr Piper too asked whether costs at the camps could go up if they were handed to the private sector.
“Certainly once you run things with a view to profit, typically costs go up,” he said.
“Look it's possible it could enhance the use of the sites, but my first reaction, before speaking to the Minister, and based on what we've seen out of this government with their asset recycling programs, you have to be a bit cynical.”
“I’ll certainly be discussing it with him.”
Under the proposal to lease the eight centres, the government would retain three - Narrabeen, Jindabyne and Lake Ainsworth - that Mr Ayres’ office said had been "identified as potential locations for high performance facilities".
In this year's budget the government announced it would spend $5.9 million on a ski jump ramp at Lake Ainsworth, near Lennox Head.
There are also two centres on the Central Coast at Milsons Island and Broken Bay that are part of the lease proposal.
While the proposal has surprised Hunter MPs, the government has previously flagged issues with the sector.
In the Office of Sport's 2014/15 annual report it said the sport and active recreation sector was "facing major challenges to its sustainability and performance and has limited capacity to respond to these challenges".
It commissioned a "capability review" led by Dr Allan Hawke in early 2015, which led to a further review of the sport and recreation centres.
Neither of those reports have been made public and the Minister's office ignored requests for copies.
However the same annual report also boasts of a 14 per cent increase in participation at the centres, while costs reduced from $3.3m in 2013-14 to $2.6m in 2014-15.