Administrator Rik Hart has resolved to spend $2.21 million of internally restricted funds to progress the Gosford Waterfront Revitalisation strategy based on “favourable” feedback from the community consultation.
By Jacquelene Pearson
Mr Hart, at the February meeting of Central Coast Council, resolved to adopt the staff recommendation to endorse the draft Gosford Waterfront Revitalisation (Concept Plan) Consultation Report.
“Based on the favourable feedback received through the consultation period,” he resolved to progress the waterfront revitalisation project, as amended by consultation feedback.
The Administrator resolved that $2,218,000 would be allocated to the waterfront project, funded from Council’s Land Development Reserve which he said was an internally restricted fund.
Internally restricted funds cannot be spent without a council resolution.
Council will also continue to advocate to the NSW Government for it to contribute funding to progress the waterfront revitalisation project.
Council CEO, David Farmer, told The Point in December that he was hopeful of a commitment of $8.5 million from the Liberal party to develop the business case for the waterfront development.
That announcement has not been forthcoming from Dee Bocking, the Liberal Candidate for the Seat of Gosford in the NSW State Election to be held on March 25.
Labor leader Chris Minns has already made the $8.5 million commitment, flanked by local Labor MPs, but local representatives of the incumbent Coalition Government and its Gosford Candidate have, so far, not matched Labor’s pledge.
“In order to maintain momentum on the project, it is proposed that Council fund the early works elements required to support the business case and continue to advocate for NSW Government funding for the project,” the executive summary of the staff report to Mr Hart said.
Using restricted funds
The staff report presented to Mr Hart said that the revitalisation of the Gosford Waterfront could not progress without funding.
According to the report, “technical studies are required to progress the business case for the project and inform the detailed masterplan. These studies include biodiversity, geotechnical and hydrological studies to understand site constraints, detailed land and bathymetry survey, flooding and coastal hazard analysis, transport investigations, and updates to the architectural design to reflect community feedback”.
“It is proposed to increase the budget allocation by $2,218,000 to enable key elements of the project to progress, and to fund this increase from Council’s Land Development Reserve,” the report said.
This reserve was established through the sale of the Kibbleplex building in Gosford by the former Gosford City Council.
“The application of funds from this reserve to the waterfront project is considered consistent with the intended reserve purpose. Should Council receive funding from the NSW Government for the waterfront project, it is intended that the Land Development Reserve would be reimbursed.
“It is proposed that $316,856 will be allocated to Council’s 2022-2023 budget, with the remainder allocated to Council’s 2023-2024 budget.
“This budget allocation will affect Council’s budgeted operating result, by reducing Council’s projected budget surplus by the amount recommended in this report.”
The staff report said their recommended resolution would allow “de-risking of the project and further progression of the revitalisation of the Gosford waterfront in line with the Consultation Report and Gosford Renewal Framework”.
According to staff and Mr Hart, the feedback received from the community during the recent public consultation period was overwhelmingly favourable.
Opt-in consultation and an independent market research survey reported 81.5% and 93% positive feedback, respectively, according to the staff report.
“Council’s channels indicate overall support for the revitalisation of the Gosford waterfront, with 59.4% of participants supportive of the concept plan, 22.1% were neutral and 18.5% were not supportive,” the staff report said.
“The independent market research survey, undertaken to obtain a statistically valid sample size, indicates overall support for the revitalisation of the Gosford waterfront, with 77% of participants supportive of the concept plan, 16% neutral and 7% not supportive.
“The independent market research confirms the positive sentiment around the project, with both supportive and neutral achieving a combined 93% favourable rating.
“Feedback studied across social media channels also indicates a large amount of support for the revitalisation of the Gosford waterfront.”
A final consultation report, “not only highlights the positive results outlined above, but additionally that Council received 25 written submissions, 380 responses via the online feedback form and 676 comments placed in the interactive concept plans generating 2084 reactions (1797 thumbs up and 287 thumbs down or in percentage terms, 86% thumbs up).”
President of the Gosford Waterfront Alliance, Joseph Halwagy, said he “most strongly objected to the proposed waterfront project and the allocation of $2.2 million from restricted funds”.
Mr Halwagy said the project should be put on hold for a future democratically elected council to deal with.
He said the proposal lacked any detailed evidence that “this very expensive Gosford waterfront project would have any positive flow-on effect of revitalizing the currently almost dead Gosford CBD.
“If the Council has such evidence, why hasn’t it implemented such strategies at The Entrance Waterfront where a significant proportion of The Entrance shops are either struggling or permanently closed and left derelict,” he said.
According to Mr Halwagy, Central Coast Council’s interpretation of the community consultation data doesn’t add up.
“Council’s own data presented at the 13 December meeting showed 6425 web visitors familiarising themselves with this project through to the Council interactive concept plan website. This is less than two percent of the inhabitants of the region.
“Less than 30 percent of the website visitors gave it the thumbs up. It would be a grave error to think a thumbs up is a global approval of the project.
“Even so, more than 70 percent of the website visitors were unresponsive to the project or gave it the thumbs down. The inclusion of their neutral voices as being supportive in the Council’s alleged 59 percent public support figure is at best creative marketing misrepresentation and is blatantly inconsistent with the Council’s pledge of honesty and transparency with its residents and ratepayers.
“Put simply, no responsible administration of a publicly-listed corporation would proceed investing shareholders’ funds on a costly liability when a market research survey of a small fraction of its potential customers shows more than 70 percent are unresponsive or disengaged,” Mr Halwagy said.
“This council already has a borrowed debt to the tune of some $300 million at a time of escalating inflation, interest rates, basic service delivery costs, and urgent needs for costly major roads and infrastructure upgrades.
“So why is this council hell bent on exposing residents and ratepayers to further financial risks and waste a precious $2.2 million on a project which has considerable ecological, environmental and economic uncertainty and no guarantee of future State Government backing?”
In a post-meeting interview with The Point, Mr Hart said the former Gosford City Council had sold the Kibbleplex and created an internally restricted reserve for the benefit of Gosford.
Mr Hart said this was one of the reserve funds “sitting in the background” that had been spent by staff in the leadup to council being placed under administration in October 2020.
“We have put the cash back into it; it is fully funded and has real cash sitting in it,” Mr Hart said.
In terms of the public’s opinion of the proposals for the Gosford Waterfront, Mr Hart said: “I spent three hours with the CEO in a pop up on Australia Day down at Leagues Park and I was talking to people and I can say not one person coming through was ‘anti-‘, some were people who had brought into new apartments in Gosford and all they kept saying was get on with it, we need to have somewhere to be able to go.
“The support is overwhelming. We did a full blown proper statistically significant survey,” Mr Hart said.
He said he believed the Member for Terrigal and Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Adam Couch, “is hugely supportive”.
“I have had discussions briefly with the Premier and Treasurer when they visited our part of the world before Christmas, I made a request to help fund substantiating the business case for T-Corp to advance funds for the core development and they haven’t come through,” he said.
However, Mr Hart said the council was in discussions with the Greater Cities Commission as an alternative funding source.
“If we get the funding from either of those sources we will replenish the Land Development Reserve,” he said.
In terms of what the $2.2 million would pay for, Mr Hart said: “All it does is basically start some of the investigations into the road network, transport solutions and also the environmental studies.
“Our desktop analysis tells us there needs to be about $8.5m to complete all the studies so the money we will be looking at will probably be spent on the transport studies,” he said.
The staff report outlined that the consultation identified several areas for improvement of the concept, which it proposes to investigate. They included: suggestions for additional parking and the availability of parking within Gosford; increased recreational opportunities along the Gosford waterfront; and options for traffic management, particularly the Central Coast Highway.
“Council will use the feedback received to further evolve and improve the concept plan,” the staff report said.