Alan Paterson’s 27-year tenure at Grafton and Ulmarra’s pools may soon be coming to an end.
Alan Paterson’s 27-year tenure at Grafton and Ulmarra’s pools may soon be coming to an end. Adam Hourigan

Fear of pool sharks

SWIMMING lessons throughout the Clarence Valley may become unaffordable for many people if Clarence Valley Council appoints Queensland pool operator Lane 4 Aquatics as the new lessee of four of the valley’s swimming facilities, according to the operator of the Grafton, South Grafton and Ulmarra pools.

Alan Paterson and his sister Allura, who have operated the three pools for 26 years, said yesterday they also feared for the future of the valley’s only fully fledged gymnasium at South Grafton and the fitness gym in the same complex.

“These facilities just aren’t a part of what Lane 4 do and they (the gyms) aren’t exactly big money-makers so they’ll probably be scrapped,” Mr Paterson said.

Council staff has recommended to the Civil and Corporate Committee, which meets today, that Lane 4 Aquatics become the new operator of pools at Grafton, South Grafton, Ulmarra and Yamba on a five-year contract starting in July.

The yearly management fee for the four pools will be $932,700 under Lane 4 and council will be left with a net shortfall of $350,932.

Mr Paterson said the tender documents he was given to work with were convoluted and confusing with several unnecessary stipulations leading to all tenderers overstaffing the pools and therefore lift the price of all tenders.

“All I want is the chance to negotiate and get the model right,” Mr Paterson said.

Under council guidelines, tenderers are not allowed to make deputations to council on tender-related matters and, according to Cr Karen Toms, a council officer had advised her that third parties would not be allowed to make deputations either.

Cr Ian Dinham, who is the chairman of the Civil and Corporate Committee, said he saw no reason why members of the community could not make deputations on the matter.

He conceded he was surprised at the tender recommendation and concerned about the process.

“I will be seeking more information about this,” he said. “At this stage I can’t see my way clear to support it.

“Community pools are more than just a place to jump in the water but also an important community service.”

Lane 4 Aquatics, which operates six public pools in Queensland, declined to comment on the issue yesterday – managing director Daniel Mulvey saying he “would not like to speculate on matters still being processed through council”.

The Daily Examiner was contacted by several swimming fraternity representatives yesterday expressing their dismay at the recommendation.

Grafton Swim Academy co-ordinator Jo Clare said she could not believe an outsider was being recommended for the Clarence Valley pools.

“Allura, Alan, Richard and Yvette have only ever supported and had the Clarence community’s best interest at heart.

“Alan and Allura have provided good quality swim, gym and gymnastics instruction to a large number of community members for many, many years. They know what this community wants.

“They have managed to keep their prices very affordable for all clients with special consideration for school groups with families who cannot afford to pay for swim lessons.”

A letter from president of the Central Qld Swimming Association, David Millburn to the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management in December last year, outlines what he describes as “many unresolved issues encountered by the swimming fraternity to date with Lane 4 Aquatics”.

The three-page letter claims the company:

  • provided “unreasonable quotes for training” at the (Rockhampton) Southside Swimming Pool forcing the club into private facilities.
  •  refused to open outside “general” operating hours which meant people wanting to swim before and after work could no longer do so.
  •  was “double dipping” by charging swimmers who were being coached an entry fee while the club was also being charged for lane hire.

These problems, Mr Milburn said, had lead to a drop in membership of many swimming clubs in the district and the closure of one.

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