Councillors unsure on aquatic centre

December 3, 2020 BY

The new Surf Coast Shire council - from left, Adrian Schonfelder, Kate Gazzard, Libby Stapleton, Liz Pattison, Gary Allen, Paul Barker, Mike Bodsworth, Heather Wellington and Rose Hodge. Inserted - Victoria Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson. Photo: JAMES TAYLOR

VICTORIAN Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson says she will recommend federal funding for Torquay’s proposed $38.5 million aquatic centre be reallocated unless Surf Coast Shire councillors “urgently” develop an alternate plan.

The Federal Government made an election commitment of $20 million for a Surf Coast aquatic facility including a 50-metre pool in April last year, with the State Government committing $10 million to the facility.

A council commissioned study completed earlier this year recommended an eight-lane, 50-metre indoor pool as well as a multi-purpose program/warm water pool, a gym, and group fitness rooms which would require another $8.5 million on top of the $30 million.

“While our Government’s preference is that this facility be built and run by Surf Coast Shire, this funding commitment was for the facility itself and not designated to council which had resolved not to proceed with an aquatic facility,” Senator Henderson said.

Ms Henderson said she called on the council to develop an alternate plan utilising $30 million in funding and was “bitterly disappointed about the lack of progress”, suggesting the council explore the Drysdale model as embraced by the City of Greater Geelong.

“After so many years of failing to deliver this essential facility, Surf Coast Shire risks losing this Commonwealth funding support unless it urgently develops an alternate plan,” she said.

“If there is no immediate action from council or no provision of further funding from the Victorian Government, I will be recommending to the responsible Minister that the funding be reallocated to an organisation willing to deliver this vital facility.”

But the new Surf Coast Shire council remains undecided with a majority of councillors declining to voice their support for the proposed centre.

The Surf Coast Times asked all nine councillors if the council should use the $30 million on offer to build the centre. Their responses are listed below:

  • Cr Paul Barker: I need more information to give you an answer on that.
  • Cr Kate Gazzard: I support improving access to swimming lessons and aquatic activities on the Surf Coast – as a keen swimmer myself I would love a 50m pool, but I do not yet have all the information on planning, logistics and cost of the project. After speaking with my fellow councillors we would like to have a briefing on the matter prior to a media release.
  • Cr Libby Stapleton: I don’t think there is a simple yes or no answer to the pool question right now, but I would be happy to discuss it further once we’ve had an opportunity to review priorities of the new council and see where the pool fits within that.
  • Cr Heather Wellington:  I think we need an aquatic centre but the proposal on the table is unaffordable. We are about $9 million short of what we need to build the centre as currently designed, and the operating model predicts a $450,000 per year loss, ongoing. We need to develop an affordable model for both the build and the operations.
  • Cr Rose Hodge: Council had recommendations passed earlier which I agree with, saying that I look forward to further discussions with the councillors in a future direction. I am very mindful of the generous grants of $30 million which will need to be decided on.
  • Cr Adrian Schonfelder: It’s too early in the council term to have a good understanding of where an aquatic centre fits in the Council’s and community’s priorities. One of our first tasks as a Council is to develop our priorities for the term and no doubt the question of an aquatic centre will feature in these discussions.
  • Cr Mike Bosworth was not willing to comment, saying he needed to learn more about the proposal.
  • Cr Gary Allen and Cr Liz Pattison did not respond by deadline.

Corangamite Labor federal member Libby Coker has voiced her support for the facility, pledging to work with all levels of government to get the project moving

“I have supported the proposed Torquay pool long before being elected as the member for Corangamite,” she said.

“As a Surf Coast councillor I voted to reserve civic land for a potential pool. I know just how important the facility is to many in the community.”