I HAVE been rapped over the knuckles by CBD Taskforce chairman and occasional Investor co-columnist Craig Stack with an opinion piece ( TB, March 9) headed ‘ ‘ Council deals fairly’’.
Fair enough. I should be called to account just like anybody, including Townsville City Council and even, dare I say it, council planning staff.
In the piece Mr Stack questions the assertion in one of my articles that ‘‘ business identities are reluctant to speak out for fear of being singled out for retribution in any dealings with Townsville City Council".
The central theme of the articles, published on March 5, was the case of prohibitive council charges being sought on a potential new business to the city, Snap Fitness.
Mr Stack also took issue with commentary that ‘‘ personalises comments toward council staff’’ while retaining the anonymity of those making claims against council.
These criticisms are incorrect and I would like to explain why.
I would also like to reassure people that the anonymous person who was quoted in the article is real and has a harrowing story to tell of their dealings with the council and
SLUGGED: The site of the proposed Snap Fitness centre is genuine in their concern, whether real or not, that if they were identified, it could affect those dealings.
However the articles did not just rely on an anonymous person making claims against the council.
There was comment about the council’s potential impact on business by Townsville Chamber of Commerce president John Carey, an owner of the property in which Snap Fitness wants to operate, Geoff Eales, and Ray White Commercial agent Graeme Russell.
Townsville councillor Ray Gartrell was also quoted in the article.
Identifying people making claims is obviously always preferable, however, it is a sad reality that people in positions of power sometimes do abuse that power.
Queensland has only recently tightened laws with the intent of trying to protect people who make complaints against governments including councils from being victimised.
My opinion piece of March 5 asks: ‘‘ just what is going on in the offices of the council’s highly paid planning staff?’’.
While this may go close to ‘ ‘ personalising’’ matters, I stand by the right to ask it.
I am also still concerned at the way Snap Fitness was treated and the lack of response by the council.
Councillors and others, who asked not to be quoted on this point, tried to argue to me that some or all of the blame should go to Snap Fitness’s consultants for not asking council for the level of infrastructure charges at the outset of their dealings, instead of finding out from council at the end of a four-and-a-half month material change of use assessment.
Snap Fitness franchisee Rick Curtis said they, having dealt with councils throughout Australia in precisely the same cumstances and where charges generally varied between nil and $ 5000, did not even think the infrastructure charge would be such an issue and certainly not the $ 241,000 initially sought by council.
Since the publication of the March 5 articles, several other business people, among them mum-and-dad battlers, have contacted the Bulletin with grievances about their costly dealings with the council.
Some of them are part-way through development applications and until now have had no idea they were about to be hit with huge infrastructure charges and costly negotiations involving consultants arguing the case about why they should pay less than the quoted ambit claim of the council if they wanted to proceed with their development.
So what is going on in council?
Do council officers not raise with applicants the likely infrastructure charge at the outset of their applications because they fear it will scare them off?
I would have thought these are far more important matters than taking issue with anonymous claims and so-called ‘‘personalised comments’’ against council staff.