Early learning site ‘abandoned’

DESPITE Traralgon childcare centres nearing capacity, Latrobe City Council has voted to sell the former Traralgon Early Learning Centre.

At a recent council meeting, Latrobe City councillors were divided with a five to four vote on the contentious sale of the site as it was deemed surplus to community needs.

Potential sale of the Franklin Street property has been ongoing for the past six years.

In 2006 council initially voted to sell it via private treaty, however this fell through after key developer, Minster Constructions, reneged on its offer.

An attempt to sell by public auction in April, in a bid to cover council’s $1.2 million deficit, also failed after no bids were received and the property was passed in.

Opposing the sale was Latrobe City councillor Sandy Kam who feared council had “no forward plan” about sites to deliver services to cater for a growing population.

“If we are looking at a projection of five to 15 years, it is obvious we need to look at how to cater for that and I don’t think we have done that work yet,” Cr Kam said.

“At the moment Traralgon’s (early learning centres) are two to three positions off being at capacity, however two of the venues have room to grow a bit.”

Cr Kam argued the sale of the site was “rushing into something that would have repercussions later on”.

“Childcare is just one service; we haven’t received documentation to say with all the services we provide what is our current capacity, and what is our projection to see if that property has another use for any other council service,” she said.

“If we don’t need to use it then fine, but we need a forward plan so we know what to expect in the future and how we are going to cater for it.”

However, Cr Lisa Price said it was “fanciful” to retain the site as it was not suitable for a childcare centre and it was financially irresponsible.

“Had we not had a (financial) shortfall, I would support the motion (to investigate alternative options),” Cr Price said.

Supporting this financial decision was Cr Darrell White who said a potential sale was critically important to avoid a $1.2 million shortfall on this year’s budget.

But Cr Kellie O’Callaghan argued the sale of the site was not considering the demand on services due to two significant developments in northern area of Traralgon.

“What we are saying is how could it be utilised for the community? We need to look at those options before they effectively abandon the site,” Cr O’Callaghan said.

During the council debate, community consultation was also raised as a concern, which Cr O’Callaghan said over the past six years was inadequate.

“They keep saying we had done community engagement but there was a six-year period and only seven points of consultation. That is not enough,” she said.

“If you are going to sell a community asset, you need a robust community consultation… whatever the community determine the use to be, so be it.”

If the Franklin Street site sale falls through an officer report into possible uses will be returned to council early next year.