Construction of a new $3 million water park in Horsham could begin early next year, and Horsham Rural City Council says it won't cost ratepayers a cent.
At its meeting on Monday night, the councillors agreed to note and endorse an application to Sport and Recreation Victoria's Community Sports Infrastructure Stimulus Program for the development of Horsham Regional Water Play Park.
It comes in light of a recent survey of ratepayers, in which Horsham residents criticised the council for not providing adequate consultation and community engagement over its plans. The survey results were also discussed at the meeting.
During debate, the Council's Director Community Wellbeing Kevin O'Brien said the $64 million program of funding was being provided in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This program enables a 10 per cent contribution by local government to a project, which is unusual compared to the normal funding requirement from councils for these such applications," he said.
"It was discussed that any such project (suitable for funding) would need to be one of regional significance, attracts tourism and activates the river, so after a discussion with the Community Reference Group looking at precinct one of the City to River masterplan and a proposal has been developed."
The council will contribute $350,000 towards the project, all of it coming from the recently announced Federal Government Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program grant allocation of $1.4 million. Mr O'Brien said if the application was successful, the only cost that would come back to ratepayers was asset renewal.
"It's understood the timing was quite quick to consider this opportunity and there needs to be more work with the CRG... and the community... to refine what's proposed," he said.
Mr O'Brien said more work needed to be done to develop the plan, and that the proposed plan had been developed to a stage where it could be submitted to SRV.
Responding to a question from Councillor David Grimble, he said the council had suggested Eastgate Drive, south of the caravan park and northeast of Horsham Rowing Club, as a location for the park in the funding application.
"We expect notification (on the outcome of the funding application) in the next three to four weeks, and then we need to start construction within six months of a funding agreement being signed," he said.
Councillor John Robinson asked Mr O'Brien asked if there were other projects the Council could receive funding for if this application was rejected.
Mr O'Brien said: "There were other projects considered that weren't deemed as suitable as this project - one was accessible change rooms at the Horsham Aquatic Centre, another the Laharum development - but basically the opportunity to apply for funding has closed."
Councillor Robinson spoke against the motion: "We've just had a damning report card on our community engagement, and we know City to River is controversial," he said.
"We know quite a number of people in our community are concerned with anything that takes away from the natural environment of the river. i don't want to see this money lost, but it sounds like it's all too late," he said.
"Once again, as a representative of the community, I'm a passenger in this process, and not very happy about that, but I guess the community will give us some guidance."
Sixteen per cent of all submissions to the Council's 2019 City to River Draft Masterplan commented on the water play and family elements. The council's engagement report released after consultation closed said: "The feedback around the waterplay area was very positive overall."
Councillor Les Power also mentioned the community survey in speaking to the proposal, but took a different approach to Cr Robinson.
"I don't see why we argue so much about not accepting the money," he said.
"We need to do projects here in Horsham: We talk about the community satisfaction survey that has just a taken place and how badly we did in that, and yet here we go, someone is offering us some money if we put in an application and we have to go through this process just to put in an application to help revive Horsham. I just wonder why there weren't many applications going in to get many dollars."
Our community has no idea we've fundamentally changed the location of this park.Councillor David Grimble
Mr O'Brien said the state government gave the council three weeks to develop an application for funding opportunities.
Cr Grimble gave the application his "cautious support". He said the money had to be applied for, and was not being "offered" as Cr Power had said.
"The plans look quite good, but the problem is we've left the community behind," he said.
"We've left the majority of the council behind because of some arbitrary line in the sand that the state government imposed on us. I'm not fully convinced we have a shovel-ready project. We should be making aware to the state government... there are some challenges to accepting funding with timelines way to short for us to give the community a clear understanding of what we are proposing to do."
"We now have another asset to maintain and non one in this room can tell me what this project will cost to run and maintain... and our community has no idea we've fundamentally changed the location of this park.
Mayor Mark Radford and councillors Pam Clarke and Josh Koenig all spoke in favour of the proposal, with Cr Clarke noting the commending the work of the community reference group.
The motion to endorse the application passed five votes to one, with Cr Robinson voting against. Cr Alethea Gulvin did not attend the meeting.