Thursday, 20 October 2011

Council power play stalls work on Cairns Entertainment Precinct

Daniel Strudwick
Thursday, October 20, 2011
© The Cairns Post

Motion: Progress on the Cairns Entertainment Precinct has been stalled for a month after Cr Margaret Cochrane led a vote to halt plans until a full business case is seen

PROGRESS on the Cairns Entertainment Precinct has been stalled for a month after Cr Margaret  Cochrane led a vote to halt plans until a full business case is seen.

Four councillors – Rob Pyne, Di Forsyth, Julia Leu and Kirsten Lesina – walked out of yesterday’s meeting, refusing to vote on the Deputy Mayor’s motion. Her motion – endorsed by the six councillors who stayed in the chamber – could be a crippling blow for the project, which needs to meet strict deadlines to secure $40 million from the Federal Government.

Council executives, including chief executive Lyn Russell and precinct project manager Linda Cardew, were yesterday discussing options to continue without derailing the $155 million waterfront project. It was expected that one of the councillors who walked out of yesterday’s meeting would lodge a rescission notice today.

Cr Leu accused Cr Cochrane and the other councillors of playing politics over the precinct.
"Congratulations, you’ve just said goodbye to $97.3 million of funding for this whole region," she said to the councillors who voted for the motion. "Councillors need to be honest and admit that they’re trying to kill this project."

According to a report that went to councillors before the meeting, it was in the public interest to proceed with the project by calling for expressions of interest from construction companies. But Cr Cochrane said she was "not comfortable" with the pace of precinct planning.

She acknowledged the June 30 deadline attached to the federal money and also the need for a new theatre in Cairns, but said she wanted to see the full business case and financial sustainability review before voting. "I just feel that we’re being backed into a corner again," she said. "We should get all our ducks in a row first." She was backed by councillors Nancy Lanskey, Alan Blake, Paul Gregory, Sno Bonneau and Linda Cooper, who want assurances about the precinct’s impact on ratepayers.

Cr Lanskey said financial modelling that was shown to councillors during recent workshops revealed the precinct could have a major impact on ratepayers. A council spokeswoman said the modelling Cr Lanskey referred to would be made public after a treasury workshop next week.

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