Lake Macquarie City Council is misusing ratepayer funds, according to the Toronto Foreshore Protection Group, a collaboration between local community groups and residents.
Council’s draft Operational Plan (2019-20) and Revised Delivery Program (2017-21) sets aside $25 million to underwrite a 6-storey, mixed-use commercial development on prime foreshore land on Bath Street, next to the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Toronto.
“The rationale is to generate off-budget revenue. But Council has a lot of explaining to do to”, economist Howard Dick said on behalf of the (TFPG).
Mr Dick identified four big issues:
1. Council’s Property & Business Development department is meant to be self-funding. Instead it is ‘borrowing’ ratepayer funds at zero interest.
2. Council is seeking to compete with private sector developers and is in fact undercutting them by using land purchased at 1980s prices, as well as drawing on ratepayer funds at zero interest? That is not a level playing field.
3. Council is taking on a lot of commercial risk. The Morrison government has been re-elected on a promise to reduce the migration intake. The Chinese economy is losing steam because of the trade war with the USA. Coal prices are soft. The downside risk to the Australian economy is likely to be reflected in falling apartment prices.
4. Most Westlakes ratepayers don’t want a 6-storey building on Toronto’s iconic foreshore! Council knows this because a petition with 5200 signatures was presented to Council last October. Council has other sites to build on, but it refuses to consider them.
“$25 million is a lot of money, not just for Westlakes but for the entire city of Lake Macquarie. With growing population pressure, Council should instead allocate these funds for immediate community benefit”, Howard Dick said.
“Council makes great play of community consultation, but in respect to this proposed 6-storey development, it has been a manipulated sham. Council has no mandate to proceed with this foreshore apartment block and no authority from its ratepayers to risk its funds in this way,” he added.
“When ratepayers were last asked to approve a large hike in Council rates, there was no mention of funding property speculation”!
“The state governments of Victoria and Western Australia thought they were being smart to invest in the property and financial boom of the 1980s. Instead they got very badly burned. The risks of property speculation for local government are even greater,” Mr Dick said.
“The Toronto Foreshore Protection Group insists that the public land at Bath Street will best enhance the waterfront and enliven the town if it is used to provide not apartments, but low-rise, people-friendly community facilities for ratepayers and visitors. For over a century it has been a place for safe family recreation. It could now be better than ever.”