Monday, 14 November 2011

Cultural Precinct sunk as Cochrane 'flip flops' again

Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane wants Cairns Entertainment Precinct shelved

Melanie Petrinec
Monday, November 14, 2011
© The Cairns Post

MAYORAL aspirant Margaret Cochrane wants the proposed Cairns Entertainment Precinct to be shelved for at least two years because the community cannot afford it.

In a clear indication that a vote for her is a vote against the precinct in its existing format, Cr Cochrane said the community deserved to have its say on the plan either through next year’s local government election or via a referendum.

It comes after Queensland Treasury Corporation figures, revealed in The Weekend Post on Saturday, showed Cairns Regional Council would need to increase rates by 6 per cent a year to build and operate the $155 million precinct. The review also noted the precinct would only be affordable if all cash contributions were forthcoming, but member for Cairns Desley Boyle has warned division within the council over the plan is making it difficult for the State Government to sign on the dotted line.

A spokesman for State Treasurer Andrew Fraser said yesterday the matter remained "under active deliberation by the Government" when asked if there were plans to commit more funding in light of the report.  But if Cr Cochrane is elected mayor next year, the project in its current state may never get off the ground after she vowed to make her stance against the precinct a key election platform.

"I firmly believe that now with the financial review and the business case as it is, the community should have a say on this because it presents a situation that does not look affordable," she said. "I believe the community cannot afford this project at this time; it should be shelved for a couple of years."

Cr Cochrane plans to put forward a vision for a scaled-back facility to be built adjacent to the Cairns Convention Centre, with the infrastructure funded by state and federal money and the council to handle operation costs.  Cr Paul Gregory said he, too, had "serious reservations" about the affordability of the project, and he was waiting on an internal business case to become available before making his final decision.

Ms Boyle and Mayor Val Schier have been lobbying Premier Anna Bligh for $57.3 million in funding, on top of the $40 million piece of state-owned land slated for the project.  However, Ms Boyle said she would be in a stronger position to secure the funding if councillors could agree on the project, which she had hoped would get started in the New Year.

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