Friday 13 April 2012

Cairns Entertainment Precinct's future hangs in the balance

Daniel Strudwick
Friday, April 13, 2012
© The Cairns Post

Vision: Mayoral candidate Cr Margaret Cochrane's preferred site for a performing arts theatre, on Hartley St opposite the convention centre.

THERE are 122 people in expert fields already at work on the proposed Entertainment Precinct, and contracts worth $2.63 million are signed and under way with almost 30 companies. 

The figures, obtained by The Cairns Post, signal that Mayor Val Schier’s election rivals will likely find it harder and more costly than expected to throw away the $155 million project. The council has also accepted and spent most of its first payment from the Federal Government – $6 million that the Commonwealth could demand back if the next council chooses to scrap the plans and start fresh.

Mayoral candidates Margaret Cochrane, Ian Thomas and Bob Manning have all proposed smaller and cheaper versions of the current council’s project, and want the facility moved away from the waterfront. But Cr Schier has warned her political rivals that the State and Federal governments would happily withdraw their funding if the project is stalled by the next council and strict deadlines are missed.

Cr Schier’s three opponents have each insisted that the $97.3 million of state and federal funding promised to the entertainment precinct could be transferred to another project on a different site. "I think that with a new state government – with different thinking and different views in place – then there shouldn’t be any difficulty transferring the funds to another site," said Cr Cochrane, who officially launched her alternative plans for a performing arts theatre on Hartley St yesterday.

But neither the State nor Federal governments have said whether their funding would still be on offer if the incoming council wanted to change the precinct’s design and location.

Cr Schier said mayoral candidates were being "naive and misleading" if they told voters government cash would be available for any projects other than the one currently under way. "If anyone thinks they can take the money on the table and somehow allocate it to another site or another design, it’s just ludicrous in the extreme," Cr Schier said. "There’s a belief out there that we can do whatever we want with this money, but it’s been given to us in a partnership arrangement for a particular project on a particular site."

Work continues on the project but faces a roadblock after the new LNP State Government banned the council from awarding an integral contract on Wednesday, saying it was too close to the April 28 election.

It means a managing contractor – one of the most significant positions in the planning and construction process – won’t be appointed until the end of May, after a new council is sworn in. The council has worked for the past two years on the current plans, but all work would need to restart if the incoming council wanted to move the project or scale it back.

Such a move could breach the funding arrangements signed with the State and Federal governments, which require CRC to meet strict deadlines or risk losing the cash. "If we don’t meet those milestones and we break those contracts, then the other levels of government will gleefully take their money away because they’ve got budgets that need to be balanced," Cr Schier said.

According to the council’s agreement with the Commonwealth, a managing contractor needs to be appointed by May 31, almost as soon as the incoming council is sworn in.
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  1. Whale oil beef hooked13 April 2012 at 08:05

    How can the State and Federal Governments force a project on the people of Cairns that they clearly don't want?

    That's why there's been a "roadblock" put on.

    Let's see what the people of Cairns vote for and then the State/Fed can sort out suitable funding afterwards.
    To insist that we must have this CEP which is overpriced, foundation challenged and in an ill conceived location is just so wrong.

    Mayor Val is saying that we will lose the funding - I don't believe that!

  2. Val had the CEP as part of her last election platform, got elected and had a mandate to deliver it which she has done. Now she's being knocked for delivering an election promise. Councillors Cochrane and Blake are recorded as the proposers of the motion (carried) that the current CEP site be approved by Cairns Regional Council. Did they propose a motion to council without due diligence or are they just a couple of flip-flops narked that the CEP will bring more kudos to their political opponent and beholden to other interests who want this site for future private commercial development.

  3. Whale oil beef hooked!13 April 2012 at 19:04

    She never promised the CEP that has transpired Argus.
    It was to be the Cairns Culture Precinct - she didn't specify size, location, and certainly not $250 million.
    In fact the expression CEP was a $30000 though bubble from a paid spin merchant to take the word culture out of the public's mind and make the monstrosity more acceptable.
    We all want a new performing arts center to replace the Cairns Civic Theater.
    And now thanks to the LNP we get to choose how much, how big, and where.

  4. Whale, That's nonsense. You seem to have just stated that what we have to do next is precisely what has already been done during the term of this council. The councillors are there to represent the citizens and that's what they have done. The process was thorough, legal, democratic and widely consultative and in its present form $100 million less than the first grand vision. responsibly scaled back to form a viable business case. Following your logic no elected council has the right to govern or make majority decisions. Something smells and the actions of Cochrane, Blake, Byrne and Manning are producing the pong.

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