Yesterday’s Ballina Shire Council meeting saw an intense discussion about the future of 26 Endeavour Close, Ballina, which has been the home of TS Lismore, the local base for the Australian Navy Cadets, since 1988.
The notice of motion from Councillor Phillip Meehan noted that the cadets only pay peppercorn rent, with council also subsidising rates in recent years. Despite repeated requests, the site has not been made available for shared use by other community groups, although it is only used once a week for training.
Considering the growing financial pressures on council, it was suggested that the Australian defence forces in Canberra should purchase the property or pay market value rent for the site after the current lease expires on 27 September.
The property has been valued from $1.3m to $1.9m. The land alone has been valued at more than $1m.
As the site backs on to the estuary, it was suggested that it could be a perfect site for the SES.
Ballina RSL sub-branch President Dick Wills made a deputation saying he’d only heard about the motion the night before.
He asked that the decision be deferred, saying there was more at stake than commercial renting, and that the motion was not consistent with the proposed property leasing in that zone.
In response, Cr Meehan said his motion was not designed to force the cadets to leave the space, but there was a rising and significant cost to the community each year, and the Department of Defence in Canberra should cover these costs rather than the Ballina community.
Cr Sharon Cadwallader argued for a deferral, saying the process was ‘unpalatable’ and that the cadets needed more time to respond and talk to Canberra.
Cr Ben Smith said council needed to make a decision now in order to send a clear message to Canberra, and that it had nothing to do with the merits of the TS naval cadets.
All councillors acknowledged the important contribution of cadets to the community on occasions like ANZAC and Australia Day.
Mayor David Wright said, ‘I think they’re a fantastic organisation but they’re on a great piece of land that could benefit the community in all sorts of ways.
‘We have a million dollar piece of land there. I support selling it or putting it in isolation for the SES.’
Cr Jeff Johnson said that while the SES needs to upgrade their facility, the lack of communication with cadets was a problem.
Cr Cadwallader agreed, saying that although tough times require tough actions, ‘we’re talking about an organisation that has been supporting our community for thirty years.
‘We need to consider all the options. Maybe they could exchange with the SES building?’
Cr Keith Williams said he found it a difficult debate, but noted that the same debate happened three years ago, and nothing was done. Was it really justified to have the property being used just one night a week for fifteen people?
He said, ‘We have to look at this usage and potential value and utility for other groups. It’s not just about making money. This is a fabulous piece of land that could potentially support SES re-location.
‘There’s a real opportunity on that site with very few others offering on-water access.’
After some rewording of the motion regarding council investigating suitability of the site for the SES, it was carried unanimously.