By Emily Contador-Kelsall
Plans for a civic centre in Bondi Junction are moving forward and have come under fire from the local community for being premature and not strategic.
Similar to a town centre, the civic centre would cost at least $60 million according to Labor councillor Ingrid Strewe and would feature headquarters for council staff.
Although residents and councillors are not privvy to the details of the plans, the plans have come under fire for moving forward before decisions are made on amalgamations, which could completely change the council landscape.
“I have no idea what the Mayor is up to except perhaps building a monument to herself,” Clr Strewe said.
“You don’t build a civic centre for the benefit of staff by destroying heritage buildings and disrupting resident activities, like the library, when you have a place i.e the Bondi Pavilion that could and should be an amazing civic centre.”
The civic centre, labelled a ‘civic precinct’ in Waverley Council documents, is part of a master plan that comes from the Bondi Junction 2030 Vision, which identifies the long-term vision for the area.
The land that is reportedly marked out for the precinct is the council-owned block in Bondi Junction that includes the library, Officeworks, the Mill Hill Centre and the Boot Factory.
Mayor Sally Betts said the “civic precinct project evolved” through looking at the future of council’s buildings and the need to provide services for the community.
“The aim of the project is to look at these sites closely with the community feedback and needs in mind… This will help unlock the area and ultimately benefit thousands of residents,” she said.
But, member of the Bondi Junction Precinct Committee, Danielle Ecuyer also felt the civic centre seemed “more like the Mayor’s empire buildings, creating edifices to herself rather than doing whatever’s best for ratepayers.”
“I think it’s quite an odd strategic decision for council to make,” she said.
“If you don’t know the size of the amalgamated council and whether or not you are going to amalgamate, how on earth are you going to possibly work out where’s the best area to have a civic precinct?”
However, Clr Betts said that given council had not finalised its submission for the state government’s ‘Fit for the Future’ reforms, “we cannot speculate how any community project may be affected by any potential merge.”
“Council is under an obligation to ensure that the value of its assets are protected and enhanced for the benefit of residents, so this project would take place irrespective of any amalgamation issues,” she said.
The community was made aware of plans for a civic precinct a couple of years ago at a precinct meeting according to Ms Ecuyer. Since then, the plans have moved on and off council’s agenda with the shifting of the Mayoral role from Labor councillor John Wakefield to the current Liberal Mayor Sally Betts.
Ms Ecuyer also said there had been brief consultation at the end of 2014, where the community had the opportunity to comment on Bondi Junction’s future.
Council will soon receive a report asking them to “give the go ahead to go out to tender to assess the need for facilities for residents and staff,” according to Clr Strewe.
The February 2015 Waverley Futures Councillor Bulletin seconds this, stating that in April 2015 there will be a “report to council to endorse consultant brief”.
Currently, the block of land set for the civic centre generates income for council and a changed use of these council investments poses financial questions.
“Civic centres cost an awful lot of money and you have to really have a good reason to build one because they are a burden on the community. It’s very hard for a civic centre to make money, to make a profit like our couple of buildings there are doing,” said Clr Strewe.
Due to the potential effects of the centre, Clr Strewe said the plans for a civic precinct should have been taken to the last council election.
“Directly after the election, we were informed that we were planning for a multi-million dollar civic centre and I was shocked as you would have thought the Mayor would have taken a project like that to the election,” she said.