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$400,000 on plans so what's NeXT for Ratepayers?

Maribyrnong City Council has spent more than $400,000 over the past two years on feasibility studies for a new community and cultural hub on the current Library site in Paisley Street.

The NeXT project surfaced publicly at the October 22nd meeting of Council, where Councilllors endorsed the report and approved community engagement on the project.

The lead consultants, Architectus, held 7 community workshops last year, with selected groups from schools, arts and multi-cultural groups, to canvass general aspirations about what locals would like to see in the community hub.

The resulting program summary recommends five key areas: library, arts space, theatre, council offices and commercial space, with three options for small scale, medium scale and large scale.

So far, as mentioned above, $410,000. An 86 page report. No business case yet. Not one cent from the state government.

I first came across the concept when it was mentioned during community consultations on the Footscray Learning Precinct because the consultants on the FLP were talking about life-long learning and community sharing of facilities such as theatres and libraries.

However, it’s actually a Council project. From the minutes of the Council meeting:

“Ms Clem Gillings, Director Community Services confirmed ........ Aspirations for the redevelopment of the municipal library in Footscray and incorporating cultural infrastructure to support Footscray Learning Precinct is a project that Council was working in partnership with the State Government, delivering benefits for the whole community.

“Ms Gillings continued by noting that Council had contributed approximately $410- $420,000 in the development of the NeXT project report which has included a needs analysis, concept development, feasibility study and business case study.

“Ms Gillings confirmed that the State Government had not yet contributed funds to the project.”

Of course this won’t be built without state government funding. So, while the idea is still an idea, it’s time for the Council to stop spending money on it.

That means no outside funding for consultants or community engagement experts or feasibility studies or business case development.

But there’s still plenty of work that can be done without spending money.

There’s a whole ‘community engagement’ website. We have staff in libraries, youth centres and senior citizens areas. They can chat and get feedback.

Having spent $420,000 so far on a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ idea, here are some questions Council could include at the outset:

Should Council be shouldering any costs for exploring major projects such as theatres and libraries,which will become assets owned by the state?

How much more ratepayers’ money should Council spend on the Hub?

Should Council ask state government to pay for the business case?

Should our ALP Councillors lobby our local ALP MPs for state funding to continue the consultation, development and construction of the Footscray Hub?

If state government chooses to spend money on MPs pay rises and paperwork for political parties, and election advertising and overseas trips for MPs and all manner of other luxury items for themselves and their cronies, then our local MPs will face the wrath of that at the ballot box.

Otherwise, Council and Councillors are wasting ratepayers’ money and supporting government waste.

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