NORTEC is selling off the last of its Ballina community assets, the former BETC (Ballina Employment and Training Centre) head office at 10 Endeavour Close, in the Southern Cross Industrial Estate.
Former BETC CEO Garry Bargh told Echonetdaily that the building was purpose-built in 1996. Originally used for training and administration, the site is ‘prime real estate’, with an internal area of 826 square metres, on a block of 2389 square metres, backing on to a lagoon.
‘NORTEC has not put one cent into the building,’ said Mr Bargh. ‘It was built by Ballina Employment and Training in 1996 following several years of fundraising by the BETC in the local community, through employment programs and tradie contributions. There were no government grants for this building.’
The real estate listing has no price listed for the building, describing it as a ‘unique freehold opportunity’. The Queensland-based agent is open to ‘offers to purchase.’
NORTEC became the owners of the Ballina building after BETC merged with TTEC, in Murwillumbah, in 2008. Then NORTEC was formed. Subsequently all real estate owned by BETC became the property of NORTEC.
According to Garry Bargh, ‘There was an understanding at the time that the real estate owned by BETC would be kept in community ownership and trust.’
Instead, NORTEC started selling off these assets, starting with the Ballina Small Business Incubator in Clark Street, then the Byron Incubator in Centennial Circuit, in spite of strong opposition from tenants and various levels of government. A number of people lost income as a result.
‘These incubators were built by BETC with state and federal government grants,’ said Mr Bargh. NORTEC ignored these objections and never replied or explained their actions or what they planned to do with the large sales income.’
Mr Bargh is calling on NORTEC to return the building at 10 Endeavour Close to the community, saying ‘it would be ideal for community groups who struggle to pay commercial rent or for a TAFE annex. This would be the right and ethical thing to do.’
Although he ‘does not expect NORTEC to hand it over, given their past form,’ Mr Bargh added that he finds it ‘very distressing to think of the time, effort and fundraising that went into the building. There are very few assets like these that are in community ownership.’
NORTEC were approached for comment, but have not yet responded.