A STRONG show of public support helped swing the vote in favour of building a 50-metre swimming pool at a packed Mornington Peninsula Shire Council meeting on Tuesday night, 13 March.
About 150 “enthusiastic but well behaved” supporters crammed into Rosebud Memorial Hall to back the larger option for the Rosebud Aquatic Centre at Besgrove Street. Some carried signs urging approval of the 50-metre pool; others wore water polo caps.
The mayor Cr Bryan Payne later described the unanimous council vote as “fantastic”.
He said the councillors’ backing of the larger pool over a 25-metre lower-cost alternative recommended by shire officers was an example of “what local government is all about”.
The shire’s buildings and open space team leader David Hampton said the 25-metre indoor pool option “should substantially meet expected community demand and deliver the greatest benefits for the lowest cost and with lesser environmental impacts. This option is considered to offer best value for money”.
But, in a case where the heart ruled the head, Cr Payne said: “With the proper process you get the residents’ feedback,” citing the 94 per cent of respondents from all those surveyed who backed a 50-metre pool.
“The officers looked from the business point of view, but the councillors looked wider: to school carnivals, lap swimming, swimming clubs and life-saving clubs. It really was a no brainer as far as I was concerned,” he said.
Cr Simon Brooks said choosing the larger pool against the officers’ recommendation was acceptance of a “resounding message from the community”.
“All the way through the officers had indicated their preference for the 25-metre option, but the pool will be there for 50 years-plus … [and it would have been] a very expensive proposition to enlarge it or build a new 50-metre pool in the future. However, I understand that some councillors didn’t want to spend that amount of money.”
Councillors’ support for the larger pool was described as “democracy in action” by Cr Antonella Celi who successfully put the 50-metre option to a vote.
“It could also be described as civic participation meets political will, she said. “It went down to the wire and we knew we would have strong debate.
“This issue has cut to the heart and soul of the community. It has taken 10 years and now all the argy-bargy is behind us.”
Cr Celi said capping the cost at $43.57 million as proposed by Cr David Gill was “fair enough”. “We need to ensure that costs don’t blow out.”
Cr Hugh Fraser said the council was in a “strong financial position to undertake this essential 50-metre pool project”.
“Over the past five years the shire has paid off $31 million of debt down to $12 million by 30 June. This is the result of prudent financial decisions by [the previous] council. The new Rosebud pool will have a 50-year life.
“Low interest rates and long-term borrowings will ensure it will be enjoyed by all the shire now; fairly and equitably paid for by present and future ratepayers.”
Council officers in advocating for a 25-metre pool had used Australian Bureau of Statistics regional population forecasts to indicate the shire’s population would grow to 68,245 in 2031 – “well short of the of 100,000 population catchment threshold required to justify investment in a 50-metre pool”.
They said a larger competition-sized pool was “unlikely to significantly drive additional visitations or revenue”.
“The business case forecasts 8372 additional visits per annum (161 persons per week) for a 50-metre pool, with operating costs forecast to increase by $132,000 per annum for the larger competition pool,” Mr Hampton stated.
The 50-metre pool will reportedly cost an extra $7.6 million to build.
The privately-managed 25-metre Pelican Park Recreation Centre at Hastings costs the shire just under $1 million a year.
Cr Brooks said he would “test” the shire officers and the engineer to design a roofed pool with a glass wall opening out to lawn on the north side to cater for school sports and swimming carnivals.
Mr Hampton said it would have been costly to expand the main pool size, “however, not impossible”.
Community surveys by phone, ‘Have Your Say’ submissions, pop-up sessions in busy or popular places engaged about 7200 participants. Responses were received from 40 townships. Rosebud had the most respondents (1122) followed by Rye (590), Capel Sound (368), Dromana (214), McCrae (192), Tootgarook (189) and Blairgowrie (182). Together these towns accounted for 2774 or 74 per cent of responses. Nine groups and schools made submissions on the pool size.
Long-time 50-metre pool campaigner Betty Preston said the “community was invited to have its say and the council listened”.
“To have 15,318 respondents take part [in the surveys] was amazing,” she said.
The council says it is supporting a “fast-tracked approach” to delivering the Rosebud Aquatic Centre by September 2020. A report to appoint the project design consultant will be presented to the council’s 24 April meeting.