Since the publication of an open letter by a group of Alstonville community organisations unhappy with Ballina Council’s decision to lease the Alstonville Cultural Centre to Byron Studios, these groups remain unsatisfied with Council’s response.
Spokesperson Alan Bruce told Echonetdaily, ‘The letter itself was prepared by a small group of concerned citizens regarding BSC’s recent action.
‘We prepared the open letter and spoke with local organisations we knew were concerned about BSC leasing out our local community facility in a commercial transaction so that it will no longer operate as a community facility.
‘Those groups are the signatories of the open letter not any one individual. Many groups used the facility, albeit in a limited way since the emergence of the COVID 19 pandemic.
‘Other groups in the community couldn’t sign the open letter as they are either government bodies such as schools or groups that are quasi-government organisations. In those instances it is understandable that they are not permitted to publicly comment or be directly associated with groups critical of local, state or federal authorities.’
No access for three years
The commercial contract lasts for two years (with an option to extend), and one year is scheduled for refurbishment of the building, which means Alstonville will not have access to the centre for at least three years.
‘In the past various service clubs in the area have used the facility either to raise funds for local community groups e.g. Red Cross, Heartfelt House, local hospitals, victims of domestic abuse, aged care, disability services, RFS, Landcare and other wider concerns such as regional floods and bushfires,’ said Mr Bruce.
‘Youth groups have used it for such activities as physical culture, gymnastics, and basketball. Schools and other groups have used it to provide activities for older citizens, performance, formal dinners, lunches for carers, etc.’
Critics of the new arrangement have pointed out that not only will the community lose the use of the facility, but funds that are raised using the facility will also no longer be available to the wider community.
Alan Bruce added that, ‘Our library will be moved we are told but we have no timeframe or location at this time.
‘A number of fairly vague commitments have been made by Council. Not unreasonably we expect firm commitments that Council promises made now will be delivered.
‘The Plateau community expects Council keep the community informed via a published quarterly report on the Community Centre situation, and a comprehensive annual report, including financial details relating to the Community Centre. Many of these details should have occurred in an appropriate and transparent consultative process before a decision was made.
‘We are told it was urgent and council had to act in the best interests of Ballina Shire.’
Further reasons for objection
Community members opposed to the Byron Studios lease agreement say:
- If a ratepayer who had an urgent need to act decisively would Ballina Shire Council suspend or eliminate the DA process?
- That many councillors were only given some idea of this specific proposal the Friday evening before the council meeting with no details.
- That council proposed the site to the new tenants without any reference to the community prior to the decision having been made.
- That some organisations were notified of BSC’s intentions before the matter became public and they were told not to comment until after the decision was made. This is not the sort of behaviour we find acceptable by our council.
Spokesperson Mr Bruce added that, ‘Two councillors at the September council meeting described Alstonville as dead or dying and needed urgent assistance.
‘One even went further to say that many of the groups using the facility were old or aged and that their organisations probably would cease to function after the three years had elapsed.
‘Unacceptable comments and those of us living on the Alstonville Plateau are very proud of our town. The council’s behaviour has created division in the community when, during this pandemic, we have stuck together.’
Although the community groups who signed the open letter are highly critical of Ballina Council, they noted that councillors Sharon Parry, Eoin Johnston, Ben Smith and Nathan Willis voted against the proposal, and say they are grateful for their stance.