The selection by Tweed Shire Council of a novice operator over one with 30 years’ experience to run markets for the first time at the redeveloped Jack Evans Boat Harbour in downtown Tweed Heads has come under fire.
Council received only two submissions recently to run the markets in the parkland around the harbour, which has been spruced up at a cost of almost $10 million, most of it ratepayer money.
The redevelopment aimed to revitalise the Tweed Heads CBD, which had lost its shine over the years as business growth moved south, and includes provision for activities such as markets in the popular precinct.
But Crs Katie Milne and Gary Bagnall at their recent council meeting questioned the selection of Tweed Twilight Markets to operate the markets for three years, with an option to renew for a further three years.
They failed in their bid to defer selection to seek a report on what Council could do if it were not satisfied with their performance or ‘if they go pear shaped’.
The other submission was from Starspec Pty Ltd.
Cr Milne said the preferred operator had ‘never’ run a market before and Council had previous ‘compliance’ issues with them, but details relating to those issues in the staff report were kept secret as it was deemed confidential commercial information.
Cr Milne said she was also concerned the operator had a ‘purely profit-driven agenda rather than a community agenda’.
Cr Bagnall said Jack Evans Boat Harbour was a significant site and ‘we all want the best operator’, and was concerned Council had not negotiated with the proponents over what it expected of the markets.
He said he believed both had good ideas but it was not clear enough what type of market it would be, whether it would promote local craft and produce or whether the stalls chosen to sell goods would be ‘suitable for this location’.
Council’s director of engineering and operations, Patrick Knight, said in his public report that both submissions offered advantages, but Tweed Twilight Markets (TTM) offering a summer evening markets as against weekend markets, and the support from the local business chamber, tipped the scales in its favour.
Mr Knight said TTM ‘has a supporting letter from the Tweed Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc citing the markets as an opportunity for existing and new businesses to showcase their goods and services and a willingness to provide a discounted rate to Tweed businesses’.
‘The proposal to conduct markets on a Friday evening (for much of the year) is viewed as an important point of difference and will reduce conflict with another major regional market at Kingscliff,’ Mr Knight said.
‘The boat harbour also currently enjoys significant patronage by the community during the daylight hours and the prospect of introducing more people and attractions on Friday evenings during the summer season is welcomed.’
Conditions of the approval include a limit of four food businesses (stalls or vans) permitted to sell ‘conventional’ food and drink, in order not to upset nearby established businesses.
The unlimited separate sale of home-grown food is allowed.
Mr Knight said Council had previously varied its policy to allow the number of stalls or vans offering ‘conventional’ food and drink. At Pottsville it’s limited to two because the markets there are ‘immediately opposite several small businesses that sell take-away food’, while at Kingscliff and Tweed Heads, it’s four.
Both had proposed to run four ‘conventional’ food/drink stalls.
TTM offered to pay a percentage of stall income back to Council and three free ‘community or charity’ stalls each event.
Starspec proposed a ‘farmers/craft market embracing “make it, bake it or grow it, antiques or collectables”, free space for charities every Saturday and occasional Sunday, pay a fixed monthly amount to Council as well as an annual cash contribution to charity’.
Mr Knight said Starspec sought ‘exclusive use rights’, but TTM did not, providing Council an ‘opportunity to consider other options that may complement these markets’.
Councillors voted 5–2 to give it to Tweed Twilight Markets (Crs Milne and Bagnall against).