Councillor pledges to reverse Square vote... with conditions
THE future of the Lismore Square expansion proposal remains a live issue despite Lismore City councillors effectively voting to kill off the idea more than three weeks ago.
Lismore councillor Greg Bennett has now said he would change his vote and support the expansion if the council agreed to consider reducing the rate difference between the CBD shops and the Square.
Cr Bennett and his fellow Ratepayers Association councillor Nancy Casson both voted against the memorandum of understanding for the $90 million project.
"It's probably one of the hardest decisions I've had to make since I've been (a councillor)," Cr Bennett said.
"There are benefits for the town, and I want to see the town going ahead, but there are also some really big negatives.
Chief among those negatives for Cr Bennett is the potential expansion's economic impact on the CBD.
He moved an amendment for the council to consider increasing rates at the Square in order to lower rates in the CBD, but it was voted down.
"The CBD is paying three and a half times more than the Square in rates per square metre. Part of that is in services like street cleaning and security, so (the Square) should not have to pay that, but they are still paying a lot less."
Unfortunately, fixing the rate "imbalance" isn't as easy as a council vote. Under the Local Government Act of 1993, councils are forbidden from what's called "spot rating" - the power to make an individual ratepayer pay more.
If the council opts to raise rates at the Square, every other commercial premises in it's "urban" category would be forced to pay more, including Goonellabah, South, East and North Lismore, as well as the shops surrounding the Square.
The other alternative is to abolish categories, and make both the inner CBD and the urban zones pay the same.
But councillor Neil Marks noted the council spent large chunks of money on the CBD and not on the other areas, where services such as cleaning and security were supplied by shopping centre owners.
As at 5pm on Wednesday, almost 1000 signatures had been added to a petition to reverse the council's "atrocious" decision.
Lismore Regional Park versus debt
Cr Bennett also wanted the proceeds from the sale of any public land to be used to pay down council's $80 million debt.
But most councillors in support of the expansion opposed this, because they want to use the money from the sale of the land to help fund the Lismore Regional Park proposal.
Cr Casson and Bennett oppose the park, with Cr Casson saying it was in a "stupid location" because of flooding.
"Why are we spending money on things that we really don't need and why aren't we paying down our debt," she said.
On the other hand, Cr Marks said it would be a unique attraction for Lismore.
He compared the proposal to the successful Tamworth Regional Park, which includes a "playground on steroids" and water play area, as well as a sound stage and a cafe.
"And if we design the area smartly, the damage in a flood will be minimal," he said.
Three councillors will definitely not change their vote are Greens Vanessa Ekins and Adam Guise, and stalwart opponent Eddie Lloyd, with Cr Guise describing the Square expansion as "predator capitalism".
"It's firmly my belief that if it's given the go ahead now it's a fait accompli," he said.
"The decision will get taken out of council's hands and get given to the Joint Regional Planning Panel and we will have limited opportunities to influence scale and detail of the development.
He said the developer was only prepared to investigate building on community land, not going up or in another direction - and if they had, councillors had not been privy to why those options had been ruled out.
He also said the predicted 5-6% economic impact on the CBD shops was "enough to drive any small business to the wall".
In what was characterised as a choice between the CBD and the Square - he said "my choice was the CBD".