Kyneton Bowling Club Pokies Development:
Objectors Speak Out About Council Attempting To Recoup Costs
I must take issue with two newspaper articles (“Negotiated costs deal” and “Penalty claim on KMI development”, p.1, Guardian August 25) and Editorial Comment in the same issue. Contrary to the article's suggestions, there was no “negotiated settlement”. A non-negotiable offer to settle was put to the Council on August 22nd, for acceptance by August 25th. It required the Council to absorb its entire costs. That offer was accepted.
At the Council meeting last week, Mayor Neil moved an extraordinary motion to endorse the decision by CEO Morris to try to recover Council’s costs in the earlier action taken by a group of local residents, concerned with safe on-street parking near the primary school, to require compliance by the Council with planning permit conditions relating to the Bowling Club redevelopment. That motion by Mayor Neil followed enquiries at Council two weeks ago seeking to establish the authority of CEO Morris to take that action unilaterally. Contrary to the view expressed by Cr. Harvey that CEO Morris acted within his powers, a search of the Register of Delegations of Powers by the Council to CEO Morris reveals no specific delegation which authorised his decision.
Your article infers that the Council acted altruistically. It repeats the spin imparted by Cr. Harvey that due to “concerns expressed by the local community”, the matter was recommended to be settled. Harvey did not reveal that the decision to settle followed the receipt of a letter written to the Council and its solicitors which laid out forcefully the arguments which we proposed to put to VCAT if the action for costs had been pursued. The letter made it clear that the actions of Council staff would be questioned on grounds of integrity and honesty. It outlined a strong legal case against the Council’s action.
Contrary to the view expressed by Cr. Bleek that “there are no winners in this”, we consider the outcome represents a magnificent win for those who believe it is right and proper to seek honest, accountable and representative local government. It also raises a serious question as to the impartiality and judgment of CEO Morris, Mayor Neil and those Councillors who have promoted the redevelopment of the Kyneton Bowling Club in the guise of the minimal refurbishment of the Kyneton Mechanics Institute.
Now we learn that the works contractor is claiming an additional $300,000 for delays of 6-7 months in the start of work until May 31st. The contractor is citing increases in the cost of materials as the cause. The Council is pointing the finger at Heritage Victoria, the recent dispute in VCAT and difficulties with floor levels of the Bowling Club. The truth probably lies with the Council’s incompetence.
Questions should be asked why there was a rush to enter into a works contract and then the delay to the start of work. Delay caused by the failure of the Council to comply with conditions imposed by Heritage Victoria begs the question why such conditions were not complied with before entering into the contract. The claim that the VCAT action to enforce the parking conditions caused the delay is a nonsense. Safe on-street parking had no relevance to the off-street building works. The floor level problem should have been identified at the initial planning stage. But the Council did not publish those plans for external review. Q.E.D.
It is commonplace that as the 1995 lease by the Kyneton Bowling Club [KBC] was not properly and legally authorised by the Planning Minister, it is invalid. That “lease” still has eleven years to run. The Minister reportedly approved the grant of a new lease one year ago but the lease has not yet been signed. The media may well ask, why not and, further, why the Council has proceeded to contract the works in the absence of a new lease? The reason may involve a legal point. If and when a new lease is signed by the Council as Committee of Management, that action is open to legal challenge, as it involves a decision to restrict for private use Crown Land reserved for public recreation.
As the Kyneton Bowling Club redevelopment cost escalates, with ratepayers of the entire shire being held to ransom (the Council is footing two-thirds of the total cost), might commonsense yet prevail? It would save ratepayers and bowling club members an enormous amount of money if the KBC redevelopment was halted and the contractor compensated for work done. The Bowling Club could be encouraged to seek an alternative non-contentious site for its bowling and gambling activities, which it could own and operate in its own right.
Michael I. Kennedy
Please note: The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of MRRA Inc.