Crit­i­cism ex­plained

Townsville Bulletin - - Voice Of The North - opin­ion Tony Rag­gatt busi­ness edi­tor tony. rag­gatt@ townsville­bul­letin. com. au

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.

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