Busselton's Bay to Bay Action Group hold public meeting

Concept design of a performing arts and convention centre in Busselton. Image supplied.
Concept design of a performing arts and convention centre in Busselton. Image supplied.

Around 200 people packed into the Churchill Park Hall on September 15, 2020 for a public meeting hosted by the Bay to Bay Action Group.

The group held the forum mainly in opposition to what they said has been a lack of community consultation in relation to the city's performing arts centre project.

A performing arts centre in Busselton has been in the pipeline for more than 14 years with the city undertaking a feasibility study and community consultation during that time.

More recently, city officers consulted with other performing arts centres around the Australia to identify gaps and opportunities in its design.

As a result the scope and design of the building changed to include a convention centre that could also attract and accommodate business conferences, adding an additional revenue stream to the facility.

The city were able to secure $10.35 million in federal government funding in August 2019 and committed a further $10.65 million towards the project.

A bid to the state government for $9.5 million was unsuccessful, which could potentially see the city borrow $15 million over a 20 year term at an interest rate of less than 2 per cent to fund construction.

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Bay to Bay Action Group member Anne Ryan said community consultation that was conducted in 2014 fell short of public expectations and would not pass the pub test today.

Ms Ryan said ratepayers were being treated like second class citizens and likened the city to "robbing" its ratepayers to fund the performing arts centre and create jobs.

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said a performing arts centre had been a need and desire for the community for a long time.

He said the city had recently sold land for millions of dollars which would be put towards the project and there was still a formal process at council which would provide another opportunity for public comment.

At a time of economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic many ratepayers questioned whether it was the right time for city to invest in a multi-million project.

Bay to Bay Action Group member Glenn Callegari said while a performing arts centre was a nice thing to have he was concerned about the financial impost on ratepayers and whether it was fair to burden residents with that cost.

Ratepayer Lee Foster said many small business owners were doing it tough and he did not want to see financial pain for anyone down the track.

Business owner Ray Mountney said it was a changing world and that business was tough, any project the city undertook needed to be in balance with affordability.

Many community members spoke in support of a performing arts centre with Roslyn Happ saying that Busselton could become a cultural capital.

"Borrow a bit of money and get on with it, this place needs imagination and culture particularly at the moment," she said.

Acting Up vice chairman John Lee said the performing arts community in Busselton needed a facility with a bigger space to hold performances that often went to Bunbury instead.

Dancing South West's Vicky Newell said a performing arts centre could attract dance schools from all over WA which would travel here for week long competitions.

She said there were around 1,000 people in Busselton and Dunsborough who were involved in dancing and they had to travel to Bunbury several times a year for competitions and performances.

Other community members wanted to see the city focus on other priorities in the region such as improving rural roads, the Vasse River and upgrading aging facilities.

Because the gathering was not an official electors meeting it does not carry any weight for council.

Despite this, three motions were raised at the meeting which garnered strong support from the attendees.

Ms Ryan wanted the city to improve its public consultation procedures to engage directly with community groups.

Brian O'Conner was concerned about the true financial position of the city and would like the city to cease borrowing until it could improve its current financial ratios to a score of 70 for at least two years.

Former councillor Gordon Bleachmore said he had no confidence in how the council or city were handling themselves by changing facts and the scope of the performing arts centre project.