Byron Council’s decision to bypass a conventional tender process for the management of the old Byron Hospital site appears to have backfired, with the project becoming bogged in bureaucracy.
Councillors have now voted to return to the well-worn tender path in the hope that this will see the goal of turning the site into a community services hub advance more quickly.
Last week’s Council meeting heard that after the Shirley Street site was sold to Byron Council for $1 in 2018, it decided to grant a long-term lease to the community committee that had initiated the project without seeking any other expressions of interest.
This volunteer committee, acting under the not-for-profit company name Old Byron Hospital Ltd (OBH), had played a crucial role at every stage of the project and was to be responsible for managing the site.
However, when the directly negotiated lease with OBH was sent to the Office of Local Government as per Council’s legal obligations, the bureaucrats said it potentially met the definition of a ‘public-private partnership’, which would require greater assessment.
Council officer Claire McGarry said in a report to last week’s meeting, ‘Given OLG cannot provide an estimated timeframe for finalisation of their review, it is recommended an alternative approach of calling a tender be considered.’
‘The main benefit of a tender would be to put timeframes back within Council’s control with additional benefits including demonstrating to those who wish to now make a case for use and management of the facility…’
The council’s decision to privately negotiate a lease with OBH Ltd last September led some within the community to question whether the process should have been conducted with greater transparency.
Labor councillor Paul Spooner told last week’s meeting that this decision had been made in the interests of ‘getting the project up and going’.
‘If you think it’s frustrating getting a development application through Council, try sitting in our seat and dealing with the state government.’
With management of the site now going out to tender, OBH Ltd will now have to compete with any other interested parties to win the lease tender.
The chair of the committee, local real estate agent Chris Hanley, said he and the other eight members of the committee remained steadfast in their intention to ‘see the site become a wonderful local resource’.
‘The path they’ve taken was as per the legal advice they received,’ Mr Hanley said.