While the State Government will assess the precinct business case on December 5 – a decision crucial to the project going ahead – the $40 million federal grant expires at the end of June next year. Combined with the upheaval of both local and state government elections due early next year, the project is at its most precarious position since its launch in December 2008.
At the time, Mayor Val Schier said: "I see it as being second only to the Sydney Opera House." Yesterday, Cr Schier said the current council should decide the future of the precinct so the $40 million federal grant could be allocated before the June deadline.
But some councillors expressed doubts the final say on the scope, cost and construction of the precinct would be made by the current council.
Councillors Alan Blake, Paul Gregory, Margaret Cochrane, Nancy Lanskey, Linda Cooper and Kirsten Lesina doubt the project can move quickly enough for current councillors to have the final say.
"The final decisions will definitely be made by the next council because it’s all down to timing and there’s no way the decision-making process can be completed before the council elections in March," Cr Gregory said.
Cr Lanskey said the project was still open to debate, with funding commitments, final designs and total cost yet to be agreed on.
"Nothing is finalised and this whole process has been one of constantly moving parts and goalposts," Cr Lanskey said.
"There’s no definite proposal for us to make any definite decision on so who knows what the timing will be?
"I’m not comfortable with the total cost of $240 million and we must have a balance between the community’s needs, but also get value for our buck."
Councillors Blake and Cochrane, strong opponents of the current proposal, both said the next council should make the final decisions because it would manage the budget going forward.
Cr Lesina, who will stand down from council when the state election is called to run as the Labor Party candidate for Cairns, said a range of factors would determine which council makes the final call. "It’s very difficult to know when final decisions will be made because it all depends on the timing of a number of contracts and funding commitments," she said. "This council secured the funding but in the end I don’t think it matters which council makes the decision, it just matters that it gets built."
Cr Rob Pyne shared Cr Schier’s view that the current council should progress the project to a decisive conclusion.
"The real decision will be made by the State Government because it all depends on whether they show us the colour of their money or they don’t," he said.
"But the decision to progress with a regional performing arts centre was made some time ago and I believe it’s now in a process that’s irreversible.
"We made a resolution to proceed with this 18 months ago and that’s what should happen."Precinct project manager Linda Cardew said the project was in a "critical phase", with a preliminary evaluation to be submitted to State Cabinet on September 26 and the business case due on December 5.