Central Coast Council Administrator, Rik Hart, said he was correcting a mistake when he adopted a staff recommendation to reclassify community land in Mann Street Gosford to operational land to facilitate its sale.
By Jacquelene Pearson
A proposal to reclassify community land at 73 and 75 Mann Street, Gosford, as operational land so it can be sold, has made it through to its final hurdle at Central Coast Council’s May meeting.
Administrator Rik Hart resolved to adopt the staff recommendation to reclassify the land.
Mr Hart said at the time the land was purchased the council had 30 days to decide whether it was to be classified as community or operational land. Community land cannot be sold as it is deemed to be public land of value to the community, hence its name.
“Unfortunately no one decided it had to be operational land. It was a mistake made back then,” he said.
However, as the land was deliberately acquired to form part of a proposed performing arts precinct in the Gosford CBD it is clear the two blocks were deliberately classified as community land, not to be sold, at that time.
Mr Hart’s resolution to adopt the staff recommendation to reclassify the land means staff can now inform the Minister for Planning, Paul Scully, that he can amend the Central Coast Local Environmental Plan and classify the land as operational.
If Minister Scully agrees to this final step, the council could sell the land once it is reclassified.
Before Mr Hart made his resolution, Central Coast Council’s Director of Environment and Planning, Dr Alice Howe, said six submissions were received during the exhibition period for the planning proposal, of which five were objections.
She mentioned that other community members had spoken at a public hearing in opposition to the reclassification.
Dr Howe said key issues raised included that the land should not be sold while under administration and that no alternative site for a Performing Arts Centre had been identified.
In spite of community opposition, she said council determined that the highest and best use of the site would be its redevelopment as a TAFE site.
“A site for a major cultural facility has been identified as part of the Gosford waterfront proposal,” Dr Howe said, adding that she did not believe the outcome of the consultation would have been any different “if an elected council were in place”.
The previous NSW Government had announced in 2021 that it intended to consolidate the former Gosford Council building with the neighbouring Broadwater Hotel site and 73 and 75 Mann Street to redevelop as a “vertical TAFE” along with commercial space.
The existing TAFE site on Henry Parry Drive would be acquired by Landcom and developed as housing.
The sale then became conditional on the community blocks being reclassified to operational land. The deal between Central Coast Council, TAFE and Landcom was not finalised before the NSW election.
The Point asked Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch, for clarification of the Minns’ Government’s position on the acquisition of the Mann Street land and relocation of the TAFE to Mann St.
She said she was unable to comment as the relevant Ministers were awaiting the release of confidential information regarding the former government’s plans in relation to the site.
From 2017 to early 2020 a concerted community campaign attempted to secure most of the Mann Street block between Gosford’s Donnison Street and the Conservatorium of Music to be developed as a performing arts precinct.
The campaign included the Multi Arts Confederation, Friends of the Performing Arts Precinct and the Gosford Waterfront Alliance.
The Friends of the Performing Arts Precinct (FOPAP) has continued its campaign and called on Mr Hart to “be mindful of the needs of future generations on the Coast and stop the selloff of the last remaining prime public land in the Gosford CBD”.
Chair of FOPAP, Mr Barney Waters, said the staff recommendation to move ahead with the reclassification of community land at 72 and 75 Mann Street Gosford was the “last nail in the coffin of a long-promised performing arts centre for the city”.
“If Rik Hart doesn’t know the history of this community’s fight to have a performing arts centre in Gosford then he needs to do his homework before rubber stamping the staff recommendation to reclassify blocks of Mann St community land to operational land so they can be sold,” Mr Waters said.
He said the Central Coast Council had negotiated with the former NSW Government to sell most of the block between Donnison St and the Conservatorium of Music “but the new state government hasn’t agreed to that deal.”
Mr Waters said Mann Street was an ideal location for a future performing arts precinct and the perfect solution to breathing life into the Gosford CBD.
“Administrator Rik Hart will be leaving town in September 2024 but he should leave the community with at least enough public land in Mann Street to develop into the performing arts centre we have long dreamed of and campaigned for.
“The selloff of the former Gosford Council chambers, the Broadwater Hotel and the two buildings that were specifically acquired for a performing arts precinct should not go ahead for many obvious reasons.
“Perhaps Mr Hart is not aware of the rates levy Gosford residents paid for years to fund the purchase of the Broadwater Hotel which was going to be the city library at one stage.
“A performing arts precinct in the middle of Gosford is a no brainer for the city’s day- and night-time economy. It would be a wonderful legacy for future generations and is the cultural infrastructure that the population of the Central Coast deserves and needs.
“I have heard Mr Hart say that the Council’s finances are back in the black so why does he need to agree to reclassify and sell this land? It is a public asset. I’m not pretending that we will get a performing arts precinct in the next 12 months but at least he could leave us with that option.
“The last thing Gosford needs is to have this prime land sold off to another private developer so it can sit and decay for the next 20 years.
“I say to Mr Hart please keep this land in public hands so we can keep working towards our goal of a public performing arts facility that future generations will be proud of.”
The community had previously been promised other sites for a performing arts centre and concert hall between 2008 and 2015 – including sites on the waterfront, the former Gosford Public School site and Leagues Club Park. Not one of those sites eventuated despite both NSW Government and Federal Government funds being pledged.
Upon making his decision to adopt the staff recommendation, Mr Hart said finalizing the sale proposed by Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch and former Planning Minister Anthony Roberts, would “free up the current TAFE site for housing and I hope Landcom will go down the track of affordable housing”.
He said there was ‘space’ in the proposed redevelopment of the Gosford waterfront “that could be some sort of cultural centre or arts centre and we have had very early discussions with Darkinjung in that regard.”
Council CEO, Mr David Farmer, had formerly told The Point that if the deal with the NSW Government did not progress the Mann Street land could be sold on the open market.