FUN??S OVER: Side show alley at last year??s North Coast National may be the last.
FUN??S OVER: Side show alley at last year??s North Coast National may be the last.

Showground's future in Limore Council's hands

By ALEX EASTON,au LISMORE City Council must take over the running of the city??s showground if the North Coast National is to survive, Deputy Mayor John Chant says. However, there is no guarantee the city??s councillors will agree to take the showground on, or even that the Lismore Showground Trust would be willing to give it up. Cr Chant said the showground, and with it the North Coast National, faced collapse within a few years if major problems with the ground??s infrastructure were not addressed, and that the only solution presently available was for the council to take control of the Crown land the buildings were on and fix them. ??At any moment someone could say ??that pavilion is unsafe?? and close it, and they have no money to fix it,?? Cr Chant said. ??If they continue the way they are going, in the next two or three years they will be in big trouble. This is one way out to keep it going.?? If the council became the trustee it would become responsible for fixing and maintaining infrastructure, managing and maintaining the ground, and taking bookings and collecting rents from organisations, including from the show society, that used it. Under the council??s stewardship, insurance costs at the showground would be slashed and experienced staff would be able to manage its maintenance and operation. The arrangement would leave the A&I Society free to maintain its office at the showground and focus on the running of the show, and any other associated events through the year, Cr Chant said. Cr Chant agreed taking over the ground, which needs renovations reaching into the millions of dollars, was a ??big ask?? for the council, but said it was the only way out for the society. He also agreed some members of the society appeared reluctant to abandon trusteeship of the Crown land for fear of losing control, saying society president John Gibson needed to ??bang the tables?? and convince his members this was the only way forward. ??He??s the man, and it all starts at the top,?? Cr Chant said. ??I think some of the older members are still saying they don??t want to hand over power, but these are the times we are in. They should be sitting up there seeing what the evidence is presenting to them. They are in trouble and they have to change their ways. ??He can??t be the good guy, he can??t be nice any more. He has to protect them and get them back on the road.?? Mr Gibson said the trust would meet on May 2 to discuss the idea, but that the issue was complex and not easily settled. However, even if Mr Gibson can convince his members to give up direct control of the showground, he may have an even bigger job convincing the city??s councillors to take it on. Of nine councillors asked about the plan, only three ?V Cr Chant, Barry Crimmins and Peter Graham ?V expressed unqualified support for the idea. Cr John Hampton expressed conditional support and the remaining five ?V Crs Jenny Dowell, Ros Irwin, Graham Meineke, Frank Swientek and David Tomlinson ?V are undecided. Several of those five said they were reluctant to commit the council to a facility that could rival big-ticket projects such as the Lismore Baths and the planned cultural precinct ?? in terms of cost. Cr Dowell said the council already had a lot on its plate in terms of major projects, and that she was frustrated at the society??s failure to find its own solution during the past year. At the council??s December meeting, Cr Dowell had been one of the trust??s loudest backers, calling for the council to extend its support for the trust, but said she had been convinced that ??nothing??s going to change??. ??There??s been no indication of any great movement to find a solution,?? Cr Dowell said. ??I think there??s an unwillingness to look outside the square and the way they??ve always done things.?? Cr Dowell said the showground and the North Coast National were important, but ??I think there are things the society could do to help itself??. She said the society had rejected offers of money from the Lismore Go-Kart Club and the Gem Fest organisers, because both groups had wanted secure tenure. The kart club had wanted an option to buy the land it was on from the society. Mr Gibson said that these issues were also more complicated than they appeared at first glance. He denied the trust had not looked for a solution, saying it had met the Department of Lands to discuss the issue, but that meeting had been delayed by the Christmas break, when the relevant department officers had been on leave. He said the trust shared councillors?? feelings of frustration at the process, but said it was actively looking for a solution to the infrastructure issue. ??We were and still are looking at our options,?? he said. ??As far as looking outside the square goes, we do need to do that, but we have to protect the show society in all of this.?

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