Clarence Valley Council depot at South Grafton.
Clarence Valley Council depot at South Grafton. Caitlan Charles

TOURISM OUTRAGE: So much for democracy and transparency

DESPITE Clarence Valley Council (CVC) abandoning the South Grafton Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in February 2018 and trying to lease it to "Olivers" and then trying to sell it to anyone, this valuable community asset remains vacant ... but there are new plans to cash it in (DEX 8/6/2019).

Little wonder the CVC efforts to sell our VIC made front-page news on April Fool's Day this year.

This VIC could easily house the staff of Council's Economic Development Unit (EDU) in this high-profile location with proper parking and visitor facilities where these staff could still effectively offer visitor information alongside their other duties. Instead, CVC prefers to crowd these staff members into the Council Chambers in Prince St Grafton where they are unlikely to run into any visitors to our region or into any local tourism operators.

There are similarities with CVC's sale of the old Copmanhurst Council building in Victoria St, Grafton in 2016.

Council sold these Victoria St premises for $1.84 million (less commissions and costs) and immediately entered a 5x5x5 year lease agreement to rent it back at a cost of $210,000 per year (plus council rates). In less than eight years CVC will have given the entire sale proceeds back!

But wait ... CVC has plans to redevelop the existing Council Chambers in Prince St to house all current staff plus all the staff from Victoria St, plus the staff that could be located at the VIC and, probably, including most of the staff from the Maclean Council Chambers ... all under one huge roof.

Can anyone else see another South Grafton Works Depot fiasco in the making? And who will carry the cost? The ratepayers, of course.

Just a warning for anyone or any local organisation that may wish to strive to provide long term benefits to our community:

I spent more than 20 years of my working life along with my staff, local business operators and former councillors to achieve the following:

- establish a tourism authority administered by local business operators in a partnership with councils

- purchase land from the State Government for less than $20,000 at the entrance to Grafton (a condition was that this site was to be zoned Community Title which cannot be sold without rezoning)

- build one of the finest VICs in Australia with grant monies, community contributions and council funding

- become only the second area in NSW to fund staffing of the VIC with a Special Rate Variation collected solely from commercially zoned land

- win numerous state and regional awards for our services to local tourism

Clarence Valley Council has destroyed all this.

To make matters worse, they now take into their General Rate revenue the Tourism SRV which was approved by the Minister for Local Government to pay for staffing at the VIC (in lieu of membership fees to the CRTA).

This is currently worth more than $200,00 pa and CVC pockets every cent of it.

The council has collected around $1.3 million by selling part of the VIC location to McDonald's, after receiving substantial lease payments from McDonald's for years. CVC estimated a sale price of $1.2 million for the VIC. CVC has established a park on the remainder of the land originally purchased for the VIC.

CVC has advised me, in writing, that they will not answer any of my outstanding, current or future questions about their management of tourism as I disagree with the direction they have taken.

So much for transparency ... so much for accountability ... so much for gratitude for service ... so much for democracy in the Clarence Valley.

Bill Day, Yamba



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