The consortium at the centre of the politically fraught Gillman land deal put in an expression of interest to build a 40 hectare food park on the site, but the bid was knocked back by the State Government, InDaily can reveal.
Premier Jay Weatherill yesterday announced the food processing hub would be developed at the Parafield Airport precinct, as forecast by InDaily on Friday.
It’s understood the Parafield proposal was one of eight expressions of interest considered for the Northern Adelaide Food Park, a centerpiece of Labor’s Northern Economic Plan. It beat major proposals from Walker Corporation, which wanted a Waterloo Corner site, and a proposed Penfield hub on a site owned by transport services company SCT Logistics.
But it’s understood one of the eight proposals came from Adelaide Capital Partners to base the food park on the Gillman site at the centre of its controversial deal with Government in December 2013.
And despite the Government agreeing to offload the precinct to ACP for $100 million, it says it chose not to base a food park there because it was “not the best proposal”.
Cabinet approved the unsolicited bid for the Gillman site after the board of Renewal SA advised against doing so without testing the market. Several board members resigned in protest. In January a scathing Supreme Court judgment ruled the deal valid but expressed serious concerns about the process. A subsequent appeal against the decision by Integrated Waste Services was dismissed.
Last week, a damning report by the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption made findings of maladministration against two senior Renewal SA bureaucrats, but exonerated Weatherill and his then-Infrastructure Minister Tom Koutsantonis.
The food park expressions of interest were assessed by the state’s Economic Development Board – the body that originally received the bid for Gillman from ACP.
InDaily has been told while the proposal “ticked most of the boxes … legally, there were serious question marks around whether or not they were able to deliver the land in the available timeframe”.
“It was basically shoved in the too-hard basket,” InDaily has been told.
Effectively, then, it appears the ongoing legal stoush sparked by the Government’s land sale has potentially precluded the site from a major development.
But the Government denies this, telling InDaily “the responsibility for any delays in the Gillman development lie with those people attacking it – namely the South Australian Liberal Party”.
“The simple reality was that ACP’s proposal was not the best proposal and didn’t meet all the requirements,” a spokesman said.
“The key criteria of the request for information process was to have land that was ready for development. The land put forward by ACP was not site ready and couldn’t have been developed within 12 months.”
The call for expressions of interest stipulated the land must be available to develop by mid-2016.
Part of the Gillman land remains the subject of a legal battle between the Adelaide City Council and the State Government.
In 2009 the State Government compulsorily acquired the council’s 50 per cent stake in a 300ha section of the Gillman site, known as the Dean Rifle Range, for $1.52 million in compensation.
In 2012 the council challenged the compensation the Government offered – seeking $30 million instead – and the legal action has been ongoing every since.
ACP bought the 400 hectare former Multi-Function Polis site in a staged deal, which will see it take control of 150 hectares in the first tranche.
Its proposal said the site, known as “Lipson Estate”, would see a collection of “significant interests in one location”, including oil and gas interests.
The Government has stood by its contentious deal with ACP, arguing the plan was to create an “oil and gas hub” on the site, which would create 6000 jobs.
But the revelation ACP sought to build a food processing hub on almost a third of the available land will put more question marks over that claim.
Today, Koutsantonis said he believed the ACP development at Gillman might never go ahead.
“I suspect now, given the controversy surrounding this, that there may not be now a development of the Gillman land under this current proposal, because I think it would be very hard to attract investors given the partisan way it’s been debated,” Koutsantonis told ABC 891 radio.
“We were attempting to use (land) that had sat vacant for 30 years and unfortunately it’s been so politicised now that it’s become a bit difficult.”
InDaily has contacted ACP for comment on its interest in the food park.
The Opposition said today it would call Weatherill and Koutsantonis as witnesses in an ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the Gillman deal.
“Whilst Mr Lander was able to investigate legal issues such as maladministration and corruption he didn’t consider critical issues such as political accountability and responsibility for this disastrous deal,” Opposition frontbencher Rob Lucas said. “Issues such as breaches of Ministerial Code of Conduct are the responsibility of the Parliamentary process.”
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