Pulling the pool plug?

A Latrobe City councillor’s push to stop all work on the Gippsland Aquatic Centre proposal pending another “full review” of the project, despite its widespread regional endorsement, has left Traralgon community members feeling “devastated” and “blindsided”.

At tonight’s council meeting councillor Christine Sindt will move a notice of motion asking for the project’s concept plans, endorsed in September last year following an extensive consultation process, to be “brought back to council for a full review”.

Cr Sindt outlined 10 issues she wanted resolved, all of which Traralgon community leaders insisted either had been, or were being, addressed before any further work took place or funding be sought for the project.

Numerous Traralgon community members were unanimous in their shocked response to Cr Sindt’s recommendation, when they spoke with The Express on Friday.

East ward councillor Dale Harriman, who chaired the Traralgon Indoor Aquatic Facility Working Party which helped design plan’s for the project, said if it was subject to further review it would have to be withdrawn as an endorsed project by Gippsland’s six councils, under the Gippsland Local Government Network, and put before Regional Development Australia for future government funding support.

Concurring with other user groups that any move to subject the project to another review would be “embarrassing” for Latrobe, Cr Harriman also warned if the motion was adopted it would “reignite the secession movement in Traralgon”, threaten the viability of any other projects put before RDA, including Latrobe’s Regional Performing Arts Centre proposal, and ultimately see the selected aquatic centre site “sold off for commercial development”.

“This is a Morwell councillor putting up a proposal to take something away from Traralgon, again, and I am concerned we are getting back to the five to four (voting bloc)… but this (project) is what the community wants,” Cr Harriman said.

“Architects and (council) officers came up with the design, which then had the support of business, developers, user groups, Save Osborne Park… everyone was happy and then we have someone say ‘well, hang on a minute’.

“If we pull the pin on this we will be a laughing stock,” Cr Harriman said, adding “I am really disappointed for the user groups and I have heard from a lot of them about this”.

Bronwyn McGennisken, who served on the working party which agreed on key elements of the proposed $30 million project – to include a 50 metre indoor pool on the current Traralgon outdoor pool site – said she was “totally blindsided” by news of Cr Sindt’s motion.

“I thought all processes had been followed to the full and this seems to have come from nowhere… it is difficult to understand why a Morwell councillor would have such a problem with the site of something in Traralgon.

“I also find it strange that, before she was a councillor, Christine Sindt indicated she would sell her family home in Queens Parade Traralgon (to council) for a possible pool site over in Traralgon’s railway precinct.

“It was hard to know where she was coming from since that would have required the added cost of council having to purchase land on top of (other) costs for the aquatic centre,” Ms McGennisken said.

She said another lengthy consultation and design process would be “ridiculous…and we would never get the (project)”, adding “I really hope common sense prevails and (the motion) does not get up.”

Warning of a potential backlash from the Traralgon community if the aquatic centre plan was scrapped, Ms McGennisken said “if (council) thought they had trouble over the performing arts centre decision, they better brace themselves over this; we are fed up…”.

Nola Kirkpatrick, who represented Save Hubert Osborne Park Group on the working party, said Cr Sindt’s motion had also caught her “by surprise” and it was “a shame for there to be such a hiccup in the process now”.

While SHOPG had its own initial concerns with the proposal, Ms Kirkpatrick said the group had been “very happy” with the co-operative nature of consultation and believed its concerns had been addressed by council or, in the case of carparking, would be addressed through a carparking and traffic management study early this year.

Traralgon Swimming Club president and working party member Jane Mitchell said the project, endorsed unanimously by the previous council was “clearly popular and accepted”.

“I think this certainly makes the people of Latrobe City lose faith when council says it will do something, and you believe it is a done deal, then someone comes along who has been involved for five minutes and turns it all on its head.

“It is embarrassing for Latrobe City if they have to pull applications for funding… what government agency will give us money again?

“And it is embarrassing for us as a swimming community, we are quite devastated by the possibility this might be pulled… we just don’t know where (Cr Sindt) is coming from,” she said.

Other East Ward councillors Kellie O’Callaghan and Sandy Kam also said they had “no idea” where the motion had come from, and both expressed concern it would damage opportunities to secure future government funding.

“We need to provide confidence to our community that as a council we support significant infrastructure developments in Latrobe City,” Cr O’Callaghan said.

An inference in Cr Sindt’s motion about a conflict of interest at a previous working party meeting was rejected by all those who spoke with The Express.

At the time of going to print Cr Sindt was unavailable for comment.