Double Demonstrations As Pro and Anti-Council Groups Converge Coffs Harbour City Council chambers

Demonstrators from both sides of the Cultural and Civic Space project made their voices heard.

 

LAST week two opposing groups of demonstrators converged on the Coffs Harbour City Council chambers.

Up to 20 Council supporters, wearing green, congregated with more than 40 black-clad, anti-Council demonstrators.

The Coffs Harbour City Council were about to meet to vote on a rescission motion to prevent the Cultural and Civic Space project going ahead, which was subsequently denied.

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Demonstrators for both views were passionate in defending their stances.

Organiser of the ‘anti’ group, George Partos, said that his group was present because of a perceived loss of democracy in Coffs Harbour.

“Most of us are here to say goodbye to democracy until the next election,” Mr Partos said.

“The majority do not want expensive Council chambers and this will be evident next election,” he continued.

Mr Partos holds the view that, if there had been Council elections in 2020, when originally slated, many of the current councillors would not have remained in office.

Therefore, he and his supporters say that the Council should be in a caretaker mode and not be voting on large-scale, expensive projects until after elections are held.

Although democracy is a key issue, the Cultural and Civic Space has brought it into focus.

Mr Partos’s group claims that residents were consulted, initially, about what was needed and wanted in Coffs Harbour.

However, in 2017, Council offices appeared on plans and there has been no consultation since.

Karen Baff, who joined Mr Partos’ group in protest said, “I am here because the project has been rushed through and the plans have been changed at least three times.

“Back before 2017, there was no mention of Council chambers and there is no entertainment hall now.

“None of us are against not having a cultural centre, but not the one planned, so let’s wait and see what happens next council elections,” said Ms Baff.

Both Mr Partos and Ms Baff spoke about the current council chambers being designed to be extended upwards and that the bricks held aside for it apparently having disappeared.

Lorraine Penn, a supporter of the Council and the current plans for the Cultural and Civic Space, said, “Councillors and staff moving between buildings is not efficient and the current library and gallery are too small.

Another supporter, David Hargreaves, agreed that consolidating Council staff in one new building would improve efficiency by facilitating informal communication between staff.

Mr Hargeaves said that the Council found that the city needed an entertainment centre of approximately 650 seats, and that the Gordon Street site could not accommodate a centre of that size.

This week, Oliver Gee, an architect who worked on the project in its early stages, told News Of The Area that a CBD location is optimal to attract the most visitors.

He said that a performance space was not part of the original brief.

According to Mr Gee, a survey was conducted in 2016 about what was needed for a new library and gallery.

“Council chambers were not included at that stage because the site had not been selected,” said Mr Gee.

The resulting plan needed only two storeys and zoning provided for six so a range of options was considered to make the building cost effective.

Mr Gee said that consolidating Council offices into the project was ‘cost positive’.

The supporters of the Cultural and Civic Space will be pleased that the project seems to be underway, but there are still a number of issues and community concerns that appear unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

 

By Andrew VIVIAN

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