Sport plans pulled from the brink

THE Byron Community Sports Association was aghast to discover this week they came close to losing a 20-year campaign for a new sports complex at Ewingsdale.

Byron Shire Council general manager Graeme Faulkner sent a memo to mayor Jan Barham and councillors on Wednesday recommending they scrap the Ewingsdale plans because of a potential $10 million blowout in the cost of the project.

The complex, including an indoor stadium, bicycle path and outdoor fields, was costed at $14 million about five years ago.

A new surveyor’s report presented to councillors at a meeting on Thursday had a new cost estimate of more than $23 million.

Mr Faulkner described the project as ‘an unmitigated financial disaster.’

“Council has a window of opportunity to withdraw from the project at a minimum cost to ratepayers,” he said in the memo to councillors.

Sports association member and Olympic gold medal-winning runner Herb Elliott was alerted to the report and immediately called the group’s convenor Paul Irwin.

Mr Irwin said he was ‘flabbergasted’ to hear the general manager’s recommendation.

“I was torn apart,” he said.

Cr Barham said she was reduced to tears.

“I was severely shocked and a bit teary,” she said.

“It was heart breaking to even consider it.”

At Thursday’s meeting Cr Barham pleaded with her fellow councillors not to give up on the project, especially because the Federal Government had given them $9.5 million to get it done.

The councillors voted unanimously to support an urgent review of the cost estimate and to look at ways to scale down the project.

“Some of the figures presented to us were alarming,” Cr Barham said.

“The surveyor was looking at projects beyond our expectation. We were looking for a no-frills project and we’re willing to tear it back to stay within budget.”

Mr Irwin said he believed the surveyors were given an incorrect brief.

“We didn’t ask for the Taj Mahal,” he said.

“The mayor saved the day.

“She was outstanding.”

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