A group leading the campaign to "save" Newcastle Ocean Baths fears Newcastle council has not ruled out "effective privatisation" of the baths pavilion, despite community objections.
Friends of Newcastle Ocean Baths has 16,800 signatures on a petition calling for City of Newcastle to listen to the community's ideas about restoring the Newcastle and Merewether baths pavilions and to keep them "in public hands".
The group launched the petition in November after the council called for proposals from the private sector to redevelop the pavilions, possibly with restaurants and a gym, on leases up to 21 years.
Related to this report: Council refloats plan for private development of Newcastle, Merewether ocean baths pavilions
The council abandoned the process in February and committed to funding the "restorations" itself after none of the commercial propositions stacked up.
It set up a "community reference group" to help guide the project, but FONOB said on Monday that a council information sheet, updated this month and titled "Newcastle Ocean Baths revitalisation", left the door open to commercialisation.
"There is ongoing reference to 'commercial opportunities' and the generation of revenue from commercial uses," FONOB said in a media statement. "This threat of effective privatisation remains high despite our strong representations to CoN opposing the same."
Newcastle baths already have a kiosk leased commercially. The council has repeatedly rejected assertions it plans to privatise the site.
The council's website says the "redevelopment" will not look like concept designs published for the expressions-of-interest process but "new concept designs will be developed".
More on this issue: City of Newcastle to fund redevelopment of Newcastle and Merewether Ocean Baths
FONOB is also concerned the council has not guaranteed the survival of the pavilion's open-air change rooms.
"We confirm our community's strong desire to retain and enlarge the healthy open-air-style change rooms and ensure they are not entombed by a roof for a function centre or other possible commercial purposes."
Councillors voted last month to spend $9.5 million on upgrading the Newcastle ocean pools and surrounds.
The council estimates the pavilion will cost at least another $10 million.
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Its 30-member community reference group includes 10 council staff and three councillors, lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes, Labor colleague Emma White and the Greens' John Mackenzie.
FONOB, which has one representative on the group, said the community had had little opportunity to contribute to its discussions.
"To date there have been minimal amounts of time allocated to community representatives to discuss important issues, with council staff dominating meetings with information presentations."
FONOB said it agreed with the council's priority to urgently restore and make safe the Newcastle pools and surrounds.
"The supposedly more contentious design and use of the pavilion is to be resolved as a separate matter through collaboration with us and other representative groups, yet the FAQ appear to pre-empt this," it said.
The council completed a $4 million upgrade to the Merewether ocean baths pools and surrounds in 2014.
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