LAURIE COOPER
LAURIE COOPER

Grounds ?guru? fears sports short-changed

By STEVE SPINKS

LISMORE'S Laurie Cooper is a worried man.

The former Lismore City Council parks and recreation supervisor is concerned that the sporting organisations he has devoted most of his working life to, could be short-changed.

Mr Cooper, a sports ground supervisor for the council for 37 years, was the man Lismore sporting organisations would often turn to when dealing with the council.

He has been a bemused bystander for the past three months as the debate has raged about the council's decision to re-allocate money to the parks and gardens maintenance budget from the capital works budget set aside for sporting fields for the 2003-04 financial year.

But after being made redundant by the council in December, Mr Cooper thought it was time to set the record straight on the issue.

"I've had a very, very good relationship with all sports during my time with the council," Mr Cooper said.

"I cannot walk away and see them deserted.

"It's been my life and I've been involved with every major sporting event in the area.

"I should be clear on this . . . this is not a case of sour grapes.

"I'm a supporter of the sporting clubs and I want them to get a fair deal."

He believes the council's decision to divert the funds in August last year should never have happened.

Mr Cooper said the urban and rural sports development program was originally set up in the early 1990s with a total of $80,000.

This was increased to $100,000 a short time later when it was realised rural villages were not receiving any improvement works.

The split was $80,000 for urban sports grounds and $20,000 for rural and this development program has run every year since.

Sporting organisations sent submissions to the Lismore District Sports Association for capital works assistance, which then put the submission in a priority order and sent a recommendation to the council.

In 2003-04 this process was followed again and the Oakes Oval canteen, Riverview Park floodlights and Hepburn Park irrigation system were some of the projects set to benefit.

However, the parks and gardens maintenance blow-out changed that.

In November, Lismore City Council general manager Paul O'Sullivan acknowledged the capital works budget had been used to offset the maintenance budget, but he said that the projects listed above had not been forgotten.

As of this month, the Oakes Oval canteen has received a facelift, but Riverview Park's lighting up-grade and Hepburn Park's irrigation system have not been completed.

In fact, Soccer Far North Coast, one of the major users of Riverview Park, is threatening to relocate to Byron Bay or Ballina because the promised improvements have not been made.

The capital works budget for the 2004-05 financial year has yet to be allocated.



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