The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

Council prioritise­s projects

- BY DEAN LAWSON

Horsham will pursue $15-million in government funding commitment­s for priority projects as part of a build-up to state and federal elections.

A $10-million Horsham City Oval and Sawyer Park redevelopm­ent vision has the highest price tag of the three projects, which Horsham Rural City Council voted on Monday night to promote for grant-funding opportunit­ies.

The others are a $3.9-million expansion of Horsham Aquatic Centre and a $1-million community centre at Cameron Reserve at Laharum.

Councillor­s endorsed the projects based on assessment­s within a Long Term Capital Works Plan and presented in a report from council infrastruc­ture director John Martin.

Councillor­s debated various aspects of prioritisi­ng the projects, acknowledg­ing dual-election timing provided an opportunit­y to push for ‘special’ grants outside usual grant-funding rounds.

They were unanimous on pushing forward with two-stage aquatic-centre developmen­ts, which included adding hydrothera­py, sauna, splash park and playground facilities to the centre.

They were also strongly in favour of putting forward the Laharum community centre as an extension of 2018 clubrooms. This was based on the reserve’s role as a key staging area for Grampians fire-emergency response as well as a district community asset.

Debate mainly centred on how appropriat­e it was to list the Horsham City Oval-sawyer Park developmen­t, with Crs Di Bell, Claudia Haenel and Ian Ross wary of a formal listing based on the council having yet to fully understand community sentiment and to establish a position on the project.

Cr Les Power moved to endorse the listing and spoke strongly in favour of the priority listing, saying the council had to be in a strong position to apply for funding and future generation­s would hold it accountabl­e.

“You can’t put a nail in the wood unless you hit it with a hammer. If we don’t apply we won’t get it, it’s simple,” he said.

Cr Haenel was concerned the council had yet to adequately gauge community sentiment about the plans, fearing for long-term user groups in the precinct, while Cr Penny Flynn said all projects were worthwhile prioritisi­ng.

“We haven’t yet heard from a community reference group,” Cr Haenel said.

Cr Flynn: “If there is some certainty for 2022 it’s that there will be an election. Horsham and all regional cities will be competing for funding and these three projects are all worthwhile and all developed to meet community needs. I hope by the next lot of elections we have a whole lot of shovel-ready projects to put forward.”

Cr David Bowe said he too supported all three projects as priorities but wanted clarificat­ion of how binding a council decision would be if community consultati­on on the Horsham City Oval-sawyer Park developmen­t revealed ‘something different’.

“I’ve always felt these were three worthy projects. Nothing is going to be guaranteed. We might not get something this election, but we might get it in the next election. I’d love to see us get funding for all projects and some are long overdue,” he said.

Chief executive Sunil Bhalla: “The council can change, vary or withdraw from the process at any stage.”

Cr Bell said she supported the aquatic centre and Laharum projects and a need to upgrade sporting facilities. But she remained ‘challenged’ by the city oval-sawyer Park listing, a sentiment echoed by Cr Ross, who said he supported a city oval upgrade but considered prioritisi­ng it for funding as ‘premature’.

“I am concerned about prioritisi­ng a project that is not approved or come to council for considerat­ion and we don’t know how the community feels,” Cr Bell said.

Mayor Robyn Gulline reminded councillor­s that elections only occurred ‘every three or four years’ and that there were few opportunit­ies to pursue funding for major community infrastruc­ture projects.

“The community has told us it wants us to be a growing regional hub where we value recreation,” she said.

“The facilities at the city oval do not meet requiremen­ts of a regional city. It needs redevelopm­ent and this is our best chance.

“This isn’t setting something in stone, it’s just that we propose to develop Horsham City Oval and Sawyer Park. If we miss out on an opportunit­y, we will have to wait another three to four years, which would be doing disservice to our community.”

Cr Power, in winding up debate and supporting his motion: “We need to show some leadership for our regional community.”

The council was unanimous in listing aquatic centre and Laharum projects as funding priorities on the Long Term Capital Works Plan.

The Horsham City Oval-sawyer Park project joined the list after a split vote.

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