A few things have happened this week regarding the Flemington Community Hub.
There was a Flemington Neighbourhood Advisory Group meeting on Wednesday. People aired their concerns and asked for clarity going forward.
The consultation report will soon be coming to Council and Council are working on further planning for the hub.
On Thursday, a meeting was held by young community members – many from the Newmarket Phoenix Soccer Club – and attended by local Flemington residents.
There were also some emails flying around saying I am running a counter-campaign against the hub. These emails are not true. I have been vocally concerned about the proposed location of the hub and suggested a number of other ways facilities can be provided while retaining precious open space and not having a road through the park to a carpark – including the placement directly below as one option – please excuse the polystyrene. Others have shared this concern.
The state government should also be making a contribution to fund new facilities given the additional 1300 people being accommodated on the estate in private dwellings through the sale of state government land (yellow buildings above).
Everyone in Flemington welcomes new community facilities that meet needs, are well planned, accessible and sustainable.
I attended both meetings this week. Here’s a transcript of the second meeting. I take notes at great speed, but you will note some gaps or slight paraphrasing. I have tried to notate comments as accurately as possible.
The meeting was held at 7pm Thursday 25 July at the Flemington Community Centre.
The meeting was opened with an acknowledgement of traditional custodians of the land. Nor Shanino, a community advocate who lived in Flemington for 20 years, welcomed residents and outlined the evening. Ward councillors were invited to attend – Cr Cam Nation is an apology.
Cr Jim Cusack: The need for a new community centre has been painfully obvious for a long time … patching up leaks, making things occupationally safe and trying to squeeze in more people who have different demands.
We have a community that in some ways has a separation. We have people who live on the estate who have significant needs. There is a pile of evidence that can’t be denied about is needed in terms of jobs, opportunity, education, health, planning for children now and in the future.
We also know there is a community outside of the estate that has not been getting its fair share in terms of access to either council resources or those things that are critical to making a better lifestyle now and into the future … recreation, quiet places to go … add to the quality of life after you have retired, before you start schooling life … a whole lot of things … the cultural needs of the whole of the community … provide a level of cultural safety where people can feel totally at home with where they are and feel part of a big broader community. That’s about language … about being able to have diverse ways of expressing self … the other thing that was very much to the fore … was the need for jobs … there are jobs out there, but there is discrimination … work within the digital age.
We put all of that together and we came up with MV2040… highlighted a number of things for the Flemington area … we talked about what are the critical things that would make Flemington a better place in 2040. One of the critical things is what happens at Debneys Park as the biggest open space in the area … trying to get a balance for how the whole community uses it … A lot of things that are happening around the estate … the DHHS is also looking at what it is going to do with the estate … need for a place where people can come to and practice all of those things safely …
And so the plan was to create a new hub – not just for now, but to look to a long time in the future. The building of the hub was something we wanted to do really quickly, but we wanted to do it with really good consultation. Everyone knowns local government buggers up consultation – we get it wrong all the time. It’s always that local councils always get it wrong – it’s always our fault. We tried different types of consultation and so you will have seen that.
Internally we negotiated and got a $40m commitment out of council to build this hub. There have been a number of things said about the thing costing $65m. That $25m is a separate idea and plan for Debneys park – it hadn’t been funded. It consists of things like the gathering of storm water … to have a relationship with Moonee Ponds Creek … to plant trees and see what facilities might be needed for soccer … and that idea was to roll out separately over a long period of time.
So we got our $40m and then it went belly up and I don’t know to this day I am still standing here knocked over by it. We had … there’s a bit of process here … the way councils put together budgets … over a long period of time there had been a lot of meetings where the hub along with a lot of other projects were being raised and discussed.
There were a lot of discussions about how this might be funded. There are experts who are employed by council whose job it is … to look at the whole financial stuff … they know the game… they are advised by audit committees … they work with state government … they are not amateurs.
Over that process, yes questions were asked about borrowing money and is that safe to do. We had some difficult moments where projects were clashing and we were sailing close to that limit where risk was getting too high. But it was negotiated. We actually negotiated to push some things out a little bit further, to bring some things in. To get council to tighten the belt in some things to make it work.
Because we have a CEO who turned around on several occasions … the CEO has made the statement a number of times that this hub was the single most important project that the municipality could under take. So you had the whole support of all of those staff in council.
So we put the budget out to consultation – a few people murmured about some of the borrowings, but it wasn’t about the hub. It was about the overall size of things – the ten year capital works plan that incorporates the East Keilor Leisure Centre … way more than $50 million incorporated in that plan the potential to look at a high ball court that might also reside over in that neck of the woods … in fact, very sneakily out of this process, they are now talking about it as a precinct … it’s now becoming like a fait accompli that all of this stuff is going to happen and I wonder how that actually became part of their lingo … because they needed to borrow the cash to for all of those sorts of things …
So when we looked at the things that were needed here … the notion of being able to take this building and the shocking pavilion over there … there are no change facilities for girls … you can’t run a playgroup in there, or take disabled people in there. We’ve got a hub that was being planned that was to incorporate that need and well as the social needs of the community. On the night of the vote …
Cr Nicole Marshall: Nor thank you for asking us … real need we have for the hub … the floor has been sanded down … it does not suit the needs of the community.
Nor wanted us to make clear what had happened … so I’ve brought the minutes … this was the actual decision of council … it’s all publicly available … with the following change, to reduce the total cost of the hub from $42.4m to $20m … so it’s there is black and white. That was the decision of the council.
Obviously, Cr Cusack, myself and Cr Nation voted against that motion. We were very much blind-sided. We have no idea that was something going to be proposed by councillors … we were visibly shocked and shaken. When you have a process that has taken place over 12 months … people have given up so much of their time to be talking about this hub … how important it is and how we’ve got to get it right. And for that to be thrown out by a decision of councillors which was essentially made without any consultation with the councillors who represent the people who would be directly impacted by that … it was shameful.
So we’re at that point where the decision of council is to reduce the hub to $20m and it sounds like a lot of money and it is a lot of money … but the reality is it is very expensive to build things. A simple pavilion will cost $6-7m and most of them are glorified shed.
We know to have a hub that will incorporate a range of uses will be a very expensive project. We were thinking $42.5m. If you halve the project budget you have to cut out a number of things … that’s the difficult challenge we face now. If we cannot have some more funding put into this project then we are left with a significantly diminished project. Some of the things the community has said through the consultation process that they would like in the hub we just won’t be able to afford it. So what misses out?
There had been a really extensive consultation process … and the councillors who made this decision didn’t even do the community the courtesy of actually letting the process finish and play-out so they haven’t heard what you had to say about it. They heard from some people who were absolutely within their rights to make very clear their views on the hub – I know there were concerns about the location.
So the councillors I think and this is me guessing because we don’t really know what happened … perhaps they took those views and thought they represented the views of everyone and they lost sight of the fact that so many people were excited and positive about the potential for the hub. So that’s been a real disservice for the community in my view that that process was not allowed to play-out and they didn’t do everyone the courtesy of listening to what you had to say.
That’s’ one of the things we think about going forward – how we make sure that people who are making these decisions hear your voice and I’m sure everyone … people thought Council would do the right thing. I thought Council would do the right thing. I never would have considered … in all the times we discussed this, it was never even hinted at that the budget would be reduced and that’s why it’s such a shock.
We really all need to get better and making sure people know what we are against but also talking about what we are for. The other councillors who made this decision haven’t heard the voices of people saying we desperately need this – we want this.
There is not another sporting club in Moonee Valley who would put up with a facility like you guys have for so long. And you just have to drive around Moonee Valley and you see the massive big sporting pavilions and the hubs that have been built and that is because people have been actively agitating and pushing to get that stuff done.
Q: Has this ever happened before at council?
Cr Marshall: I’ve certainly not seen it and I’ve not heard of it about a project of this scale. So this was one of the key projects in the whole municipality. Occasionally there is tinkering around with small projects, but I can’t recall where community consultation has been cut short and people totally ignored and people haven’t even bothered to listen to what people say before a decision is made.
Cr Cusack: That’s exactly right. So a group of six took it on themselves to make a decision without listening to what the evidence was. And that shocks me, but it should shock all of you especially as we’ve gone through a process where it had been ticked off by the community, not just here, but the whole of Moonee Valley community had agreed that this budget should go forward in its format.
Remember we’re talking about what happens to get the thing built … money needed to be borrowed, but you can’t write into the budget state and federal grants … you have to put the real figure in and then you go and get the grants. That’s common sense and that’s telling it true.
But when you look at how we were going to do this … next year, this year, we weren’t going to borrow money this year. We were going to finish the consultation, get the design work, get the technical brief done, and then get that out for tender so it could be built.
Now with the $20m bucks … yep the design work has been thrown out the window. And that design work hasn’t just been done by anybody. It was done by a company that has significant value as award winning architects … well aware of what the design of public buildings should be. That advice doesn’t get to run and I don’t know that you would ever get them back to the table to talk about … so I would say who knows.
Q: The community has been hearing the decision was because of fiscal responsibility or protecting the parkland. Is that right? Why?
Cr Marshall: That’s one of the difficulties. I cannot stand up here and say why. You would have heard the debate – we asked them after the meeting. I asked them all: why did you make this decision and it’s still not clear. There’s been some rather vague stuff talking about the financials, but the reality is this was a project we could afford because we had gone through an extensive budget process and we could afford it. It was built into the forward planning.
So anyone who tells you we could not afford this project is not telling you the truth because we had done our planning and we could.
With the trees and the parkland, there were obviously concerns expressed through the consultation process, but that’s what happens … we would have taken the information and worked out the best way to do it. That in itself is certainly not a reason I have heard any of the other councillors express.
Cr Cusack: When a council does its budget, they send it to the state government and they check it as well … there are so many checks and balances. We had looked at the risk – we know what the risk might be. But the more profound risk is the community benefit. If we don’t do anything …
I look at the Phoenix, and I’m thinking where are you going to get your next players form? A strong club will need to grow in a good facility … where both kids off the hill can all be part of a really good soccer team … there are other levels of consideration.
Q: How do we get our money back?
Cr Cusack: From my point of view … because it is borrowings, we haven’t borrowed it. It’s not in Council’s back pocket. It was to be borrowed over time … interest rates are low
The call that I’ve got and that I would like to explore with you … I want that council to say they’re not going to borrow the money and spend it on other things … If they turn around and start bunging it into new pavilions and hopscotch courts in the middle of Upper-Kombucta West then you can lay your money to a brick that I’ll have a go at that one …
There’s a campaign that’s got to start … People now need to be telling this council again and again how bad it is. Not in an angry in your face I’m going to make your day with a Magnum 357 – that’s wrong. What you’ve got to do is, you’ve got to call these people and ask them why and tell them what you want …
The second bit is there’s a new Mayor going to be elected in November. That Mayor needs to be made accountable for continuing to look at how this site develops … we need to work through that …
The budget for next year starts to take form … immediately after Christmas. Have a little break over the holiday period. We need to come back ready to roll and start saying what this community needs and wants and be ready to negotiate about …
The final big thing is the politics of the thing. We have an election for council coming up in October next year … These guys have got to make decision around a budget before 30 June next year. If we can get something out of it, that will be the win. If we can’t, the next part of it is we really need to go to town … sorry, you guys need to lead and I’ll be up there happy as Larry to go with you … so we can get some answers as to what these people are going to do in the next four years of Council … whether that means getting representatives from this area to actually stand for council, let’s go for it …
You’re not on your own. There’s a lot of faces around here you might not know today. Some of them are from the Flemington Branch of the Labor Party. Some of them are from the Ascot Vale Branch. The Flemington branch got up that change.org petition which has been going around. Fabulous. People out there in the community are finding our bits and pieces of information.
There’s stuff that’s going through other community groups and that’s important as well. We’ve also got … the President of the Vic and Tas ASU … and his concerns are about the workers who provide the services and … so we might be able to strengthen the whole deal in other ways … You’ve got to get the money back through good argument, good evidence, good strategies and persistence.
Cr Marshall: I find it very difficult to think that councillors would have made the decision if you had been sitting in front of them because I don’t think they would have. You can take the anger … we have a public forum … if everyone in in this room rocked up and said to council this is important to us … that would be something… some of the council are not connected to Flemington … sometimes they make decision without thinking there are people affected by those decision … tell them your stories about why a well-built hub is so important. .. if enough of you to come to council and do a presentation … petitions are important … that can be persuasive for people who might not want to get into the nitty gritty of thing and look at the weight of numbers … we’ll continue to do what we can … a councillor was here last night and got to hear first-hand … councillors haven’t heard your voice … or it’s been through filters … I’d strongly encourage you to have a community campaign.
Q: What was the cost of the East Keilor Leisure Centre?
Cr Marshall: It hasn’t been released yet, but it will be released soon. It’s common knowledge it’s over $50 million.
Q: Why are they willing to invest that money in East Keilor and not here? Is it because it is a migrant community?
Cr Marshall: That’s the difficulty because we haven‘t had them clearly explain why and so there have been these vague discussions about oh we can’t afford it when we can. So, I would encourage you to ask the councillors directly. And I’ve tried to, and I know Jim has tried to have discussions.
But you have to start thinking why did it happen here and there’s a whole range of things you can start speculating about – some of which might be true and some of which might not. So I think the best thing to do is to ask those councillors directly.
Q: I am a member of the community. We felt like our voices were not heard in this decision and we felt like people who don’t represent us had a louder voice. We would like to know on what basis was the decision made and how was the community not consulted before the decision was made on something that affected our future and not theirs?
Cr Cusack: I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall and listened to what was being said by a group of people who were clearly not interested in talking to us or talking to you and so their decision and why, I am not sure.
We are in a really tough place now. We do have some money. We can plan for some sort of hub whatever that may be … it might be nothing like what we thought. Last night there was a meeting … and a lot of people talked about options and possibilities. One of the main things that needs to be injected into the conversation is all those people that may be knocked out … and it’s you kids … people who were probably assuming there were opportunities within that hub for things to happen … you didn’t need a lot, you just needed a little and now you can’t even get the little or you may not get that little …
And so we need to get a wider community consultation going. And the council officers know that. And they know that … they got that message last night and they are going to have to think about how that has to happen … how the $20m serves the community and whether it is worthwhile … they have to do this decision but I want to keep working with council to get changes that we can get.
Maybe it might be build the sports pavilion separately and use that as a significant resource for the community during the day when training isn’t on. Be able to use it as a venue where young people can do things that are important to them.
That is something we really need to get going now … we need to get how you get a voice and … how we add the next value to this $20 million … I will need good ideas … I’m not going to tell you what you want because it’s what you want not what I want.
Cr Marshall: If you can come up and stand in front of the other councillor and ask that question because that is exactly they need to be able to answer to be able to stand by their decision and thinking … we’ve all made wrong decisions … we need to acknowledge that … we give councillors a chance to reflect and think well now I’m hearing all this information that I didn’t have when I made the decision … maybe they will rethink this.
Q: I live in Carlton, we faced similar issues. We had the YMCA looking after the centre. Their tender was up and Drummond St wanted to take over. We went to a council meeting. We begged, we pleaded, we told them the sob-story … we did everything we could … YMCA was a lot cheaper. It’s really healthy to be sceptical about council. It seems like the hub is going to go ahead. How do you ensure that resident get jobs? How do you ensure the culture services are still available and the demographics of the hub will change?
Cr Marshall: It’s good to be sceptical, because we did everything we could. Totally valid. If people sit back, things won’t change. So it’s important we give it our best shot to change the decision. We might succeed we might not, but we certainly won’t change it if we sit back … we weren’t to that pint in the process yet … still at concepts. I would have been pushing for level of employment for people on the estate … I don’t think other councillors would have an issue. They are all important questions that would have needed to be addressed. That was about having a place to come to … the reality is yes there is $20m but that won’t get us anything like what $42.5m would have got us. We build things all the time at Council so we know how expensive they are.
Cr Cusack: The City of Melbourne is pretty famous for hiving off all of its activities. A lot of childcare is not of done by their council. Things like putting the YMCA in charge is fine for running a swimming pool.
I think Council needs to take responsibility. Communities can be volatile. This hub like most other places are run through Council. We need to think about where the growth is? Why can’t we get in things like … sports things… get excellence in here… it should be managed through Council … not pushing them out there … We’re fighting hard to stay in childcare …
There’s a real mood out there to cut back the natural things councils should be doing … people are talking about roads, rates, and rubbish … it’s a joke. That’s what they shove down our throat, but they want to build their precinct out there in East Keilor. Two-faced. Doesn’t matter.
Nor then informed attendees that there is a Facebook page – Stand With Flemington. A webpage standwithflemington.com will be launched on Monday.
A speaker from the Newmarket Phoenix Soccer Club spoke, President ‘Spider’ Abdi Ali. He spoke about the club: they started as a football club but want to expand and the hub is important for the expansion, including to promote healthy lifestyles and programs outside soccer. Other facilities have had to be used outside of Moonee Valley for these programs. The club believes the hub would have given hope for the programs to be run near to Flemington including developmental workshops for members.
The club is looking at getting a basketball team and there are no indoor facilities in Flemington. They also want a function room for the club and spaces for things like social enterprises. He says these are some of the great things the hub would have done.
He asks people to make sure they continue to be active in this movement. This hub would have been for all residents in the area. Voices have changed a lot of things in the world. Share around on social media. He finishes by saying the more pressure that can be put on people the better – politics works by exerting pressure.
The meeting came to a close.