City of Newcastle councillors have voted to continue the current Expressions of Interest process for the redevelopment of the Newcastle and Merewether ocean baths and conduct "ongoing community consultation" on the matter.
An hour-long debate on the EOI process on Tuesday night highlighted partisan divisions in the council chamber. Labor and Liberal councillors voted down an amendment to halt the EOI process, which was submitted by Greens Councillor John Mackenzie and supported by the chamber's four independent councillors.
Deputy mayor Declan Clausen introduced a notice of motion calling on the council to "conduct ongoing community consultation with ocean baths users and the broader community to help guide future upgrades". The motion said the EOI process was being undertaken in accordance with the Coastal Plan of Management 2015.
Cr Clausen said that plan had been accepted unanimously by the council of the time, was subjected to two public exhibitions and had received ministerial approval. He said the EOI had been informed by community consultation in 2014, which was reflected in the EOI's conditions that the Newcastle Ocean Baths' facade and bleachers be retained and that new change rooms, disabled access and car parking be provided.
He said action on the baths since then had stalled due to threats of amalgamation and changes to the Crowns Lands Management Act, "changing the way the site would be managed and protected", which were not fully implemented until 2018.
Cr Mackenzie proposed an amendment, to the notice of motion, for the council to withdraw the current EOI, saying there had "clearly been a mistake" in seeking ideas from the private sector before further consultation with the community.
"I don't think anyone would look at the plan of management and imagine the EOI process would happen before community consultation," he said, adding that the artwork and terms put forward for the EOI did not have "the endorsement of this chamber, frankly, and they don't have the endorsement of this community".
Multiple councillors, including lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes, admitted the drawings included in the EOI did not reflect the council's intentions. Liberal councillor Brad Luke, who supported the EOI, said the renders were an "absolute disgrace".
Cr Nelmes, and a number of Labor counterparts, spoke in favour of the original notice of motion, saying the EOI needed to continue while community consultation was brought forward. She reiterated proposals from the private sector resulting from the EOI would be non-binding.
"The only way to actually follow the plan of management and actually get an outcome, that doesn't get delayed and doesn't get delayed for several years, is to actually to do the two processes concurrently," Cr Nelmes said.
Independent John Church supported the amendment, saying seeking proposals from developers should not be council's priority.
"We need to consult with ratepayers and get the plan right and then look at various funding options," he said, "Whether that's council money, state or federal money or, indeed, private investment."
Independent Kath Elliott criticised Cr Clausen for adopting a "classic decide and defend" approach, saying he was defending the "facade-ism" of the EOI.
"It's a whole precinct, the rock shelf, the canoe pool ... it's about what happens to everything else," she said.
Cr Mackenzie's amendment was rejected and Cr Clausen's notice of motion was supported by all councillors bar the independents.
Councillors referred to two online change.org petitions during the debate. Cr Clausen tabled a petition broadly supportive of the redevelopment and the EOI's conditions, which now has 195 signatories.
Cr Church attempted to table the "Save our Ocean Baths" change.org petition, which now has 7663 signatories and questions the EOI process while calling for consultation. He distributed the petition to the chamber in the form of a hyperlink.
"The code of meeting practice is pretty clear, you need to have a physical copy," Cr Nelmes said to Cr Church. "You are probably going to have to provide that tomorrow because I assume it's going to be large."
Following the defeat of the amendment, Cr Church said Labor had "ignored the groundswell of concern" from ratepayers as evidenced by the number of signatories on the "Save Our Ocean Baths" petition.
Merewether's Jessica Miller, who created the petition and is coordinating the "Save Our Ocean Baths" campaign, said she was disappointed by the result of the meeting and that she would attempt to have her petition tabled at council's next meeting in December.
Ms Miller said she was seeking further information about what the expedited community consultation would entail.
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