Friday, 9 December 2011

Cairns Entertainment Precinct needs a rethink, dredging top priority, says Campbell Newman

Daniel Strudwick
Friday, December 9, 2011
© The Cairns Post

The Cairns Entertainment Precinct is unlikely to go ahead in its current form if Campbell Newman is made premier next year, with the LNP leader saying the project should be "stopped, reviewed, properly worked through".

Mr Newman said while the city would benefit from the precinct, he believes dredging Trinity Inlet should be considered a higher priority. "If you asked me what the single most important thing for Cairns is at the moment, it is the dredging of Trinity Inlet to allow the large cruise liners to come into town," he said in Townsville yesterday.

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday committed $57.3 million to the project after the state's Cabinet Budget Review Committee assessed the existing plans to be financially viable. The LNP's candidate for Cairns, Gavin King, said the Opposition would match that contribution if elected to power, but the party's alternative vision for the size and location of the precinct is so far unknown.

Yesterday's confirmation of the State Government's contribution is on top of $40 million from the Federal Government and a land donation also worth $40 million. Cairns Regional Council has spent the past year and $2.5 million on the current set of plans, which include a 1100-seat theatre, rehearsal space and transformation of Whites Shed. But the proposed waterfront precinct faces strong opposition from LNP ranks at all levels of government, and could be scrapped at a make-or-break council vote on Wednesday.
In Townsville yesterday, Mr Newman said: "I know people in Cairns are deeply concerned about this project and the way in that both the Government has conducted itself and indeed sadly, the council. "So we think the whole thing needs to be stopped, reviewed, properly worked through."

The Premier said if a majority of councillors votes against the precinct next week, the State Government funding would almost certainly be lost to another region."If there is unfortunately a result which says the Cairns council doesn't want this, then of course everything would have to go back to the drawing board," Ms Bligh said in Cairns yesterday. "I would just say to the council – the moment is now, seize it for your city and let's make this happen."

Deputy Mayor Margaret Cochrane is adamant the region can't afford the facility, but says she hasn’t seen the 10-year financial modelling that she asked to see before making up her mind. Cr Cochrane, who has led the push for greater financial scrutiny during recent months, said council's contribution to the project is too much and she would only be prepared to borrow $20 million. Her alternative proposal has previously been backed by Mr King, who has said that a scaled-back precinct worth up to $120 million is "the only way forward". 

Mayor Val Schier used yesterday's funding announcement to remind councillors ahead of Wednesday's vote that the extent of planning for the precinct was "unprecedented".

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