By Lanie Tindale
Balmain Ward Councillors are tussling over $1.1 million of the several million needed to save Dawn Fraser Pool.
Significant upgrades are required to restore the pool, a Council report has found.
The report says the bath poses a public safety risk, and may need to be closed.
The initial estimated cost of the upgrades has increased by $4.2 million because Council says the Southern Pavilion structure is not capable of being repaired, and at risk of flooding.
Council reports the first floor of the pavilion is restricted to two people at a time as “the structure is leaning towards the sea”.
The Inner West Council agreed to spend $6.7 million on the project, but rejected Mayor Darcy Byrne’s plan to redirect $1.1 million from a Balmain Public Square project.
Balmain Ward Councillor John Stamilos told City Hub “For goodness sakes, we have a $60 million pools program and [Mayor Darcy Byrne] can’t find $1 million without tearing other important parts of the budget to shreds or threatening to shut down the pool, that’s absurd.”
In response to Cr Stamilos, Cr Byrne told City Hub “there’s no magic pudding” at the Council.
“I attempted to reallocate [funds] from the demolition of the Telstra building on Darling Street last week,” the Mayor said.
“And that amendment was unsuccessful, so I think the ball’s really in the court of Councillor Stamilos and Councillor Porteous and the other Councillors who haven’t supported the savings that I’ve identified.
“If they want to save Dawn Fraser Pool they’ve actually got to act responsibly and find the cash…Councillors who say that they support a project can only demonstrate that by actually funding it, not just talking about it.”
Balmain resident Nicole Graham said the pool is a Sydney icon which should be preserved as a priority.
“It’s a real local hub for socialising – older school age kids go there with their friends as it is a safe environment – but it’s not only locals, Sydneysiders all over enjoy the baths and it’s also a drawcard for international tourists,” she said.
Ms Graham’s husband, Anthony Carn added the pool is also a sporting facility, hosting water polo competitions, and their son Henry mentioned the charms of the kiosk.
Cr Stamilos said the Mayor was “playing his usual politics” and toying with the community.
“The only way Dawnies could be shut down is if Labor Councillors put this to Council, and if they worked very hard to get majority support from a few other Councillors.”
Cr Stamilos said the Council relies on Council staff, not individual Councillors with inherent political bias, to determine funding and finances.
“The Mayor needs to respect this and allow the staff to do their work,” said Cr Stamilos. “He needs to keep at arm’s length when staff are doing their investigations.”
“There is concern on Council about the Mayor’s overbearing influence on financial management and projects. When the Mayor thinks that his judgement is superior to all other Councillors as well as financial experts then we are setting up real problems for the future of the Inner West Council.
“Darcy Byrne now needs to work constructively with the process and to accept the advice of experts and even fellow Councillors if the works are to be done well.”
Cr Byrne says he has supported the pool since he was on Leichhardt Council, prior to the Inner West Council amalgamation.
“I had $800,000 allocated to the renovation of the pool…and had that funding increased to $2.4 million by the administrator after our council had been sacked, and am on the public record having fought vociferously to make sure that funding wasn’t cut.”
The council is applying for a state Greater Sydney Sports Facility grant, but will consider cancelling other projects to fund the works if the grant does not come through.
Several projects were identified by the Council’s report as able to be delayed or cancelled in order to raise funds.
The Callan Park skate park, Ann Cashman Reserve and Shields playground upgrades, works on Darling Street, Marion Street, Leichhardt Marketplace and Dulwich Hill Station Centre were all named in the report.
Upgrades on Balmain Town Hall, Leichhardt Oval, Gladstone Park, Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre, Leichhardt Park Indoor Recreation and Pioneers Memorial Park are other works which could be delayed or cancelled in order to fund the Dawn Fraser Pool upgrade.
The Dawn Fraser Masterplan, currently on public exhibition, identifies the cost of the works as $9.86 million. Pool upgrade works being completed by the council add up to $56.58 million.
“Dawn Fraser Pool is one of the most important heritage assets in Australia and holds a special place in the hearts of people in Balmain and Rozelle and across the Inner West,” said Cr Byrne.
“There’s literally thousands of people in our community who learned to swim at Dawn Fraser Pool and it’s still one of the most beautiful locations in Sydney.”
Cr Byrne says he “will be calling a protest rally at Dawn Fraser Pool in the near future and if there’s any Councillor who is not yet aware of the depth of feeling for Dawn Fraser Pool in our community, they’re going to get a bit of a shock in the near future when the people of Balmain and Rozelle mobilise against them.”
City Hub contacted Cr Rochelle Porteous for comment, but did not receive a reply.