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Ex-MP warns city council against Crows' park lands HQ

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Former Labor deputy leader Ralph Clarke has warned the city council against “being led down a path they will not be able to retreat from” over the Adelaide Football Club’s bid to build a multi-million dollar new headquarters at the site of the Aquatic Centre, branding it “commercial encroachment” on the park lands.

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In a letter sent to Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor and city councillors  – seen by InDaily – Clarke said the unsolicited bid from the Crows would “commercialise and privatise part of the park lands”, and ultimate responsibility for the new headquarters would likely fall to the Victorian-based AFL Commission.

Clarke served as a Labor MP and Minister from 1993 to 2002 before being elected as a city councillor from 2007 to 2010.

Discussions to replace the ageing Adelaide Aquatic Centre on Park 2 with a new sport and recreation facility run by the Adelaide Football Club are shrouded in secrecy, with the council claiming it is yet to receive a formal proposal from the Crows to replace the costly and ageing Aquatic Centre with a new sport and recreation facility.

The council decided in March to progress the Crows’ bid to stage two of the council’s unsolicited proposals process, which, according to the council, involves “detailed consideration of the feasibility of the proposal, how it will be delivered, and whether it represents value for money”.

The public will not be consulted until after the council receives a formal proposal from the Crows, with a “community engagement” strategy yet to be devised and a needs analysis assessing the current usage of the Adelaide Aquatic Centre still underway.

But Clarke dismissed the council’s refusal to publicly reveal details as “mealy mouthed platitudes”, writing that the first duty of the council was to “protect the integrity of the park lands from commercial encroachments”.

“Whilst I appreciate all the clap trap about ‘community consultation and we have yet to see all the plans of the Adelaide Football Club (AFC) and that any decision by council is a long way off etc, etc’, I have not come down in the last shower,” he wrote.

“The AFC design on the north park lands is a commercial development, supporting not a community-based club but a commercial behemoth which is profit driven, where the football players, executives and other hangers-on earn excessive emoluments as part of the Australian Football League.

“I regret to say that the council has been led down a path that they will not be able to retreat from without difficulty.”

Clarke goes on to speculate about the management of the Adelaide Football Club, claiming “it is not and never has been a club owned and controlled by its paid-up members”.

“The ordinary mum and dad shareholders of BHP have more say in the running of that company than the members of the Adelaide Football Club who have no voting rights for the majority of the ‘club’s’ directors,” he wrote.

“I appreciate that the current Aquatic Centre is a drain on the finances of the council, however, that is not sufficient reason in itself for the council to fall for the AFC bait.

“Surely no one believes that once the AFC gets its hands on the northern park lands that they won’t be seeking to ensure the minimum public use of those facilities and then only on the days of the week and times that suit the AFC, not necessarily those that suit the general public.

“I therefore ask that the elected members of Council not allow itself to be wedged into supporting a proposition that commercialises and privatises part of the park lands.”

According to the “guiding principles” the council has endorsed for the Crows’ unsolicited bid, any development must be “sympathetic to park lands setting” and have a “reduction in net footprint of any facility infrastructure in its developed form”.

The principles also stipulate that the development must facilitate “community access and public use of the two ovals” with further “community priority access and public use of the aquatic and recreational facility”.

InDaily contacted the Adelaide Football Club, but a spokesperson said the club had “no comment to make at this stage”.

In a statement to InDaily Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor thanked Clarke for “taking the time to share his views”.

“We are working through the unsolicited bids process and are yet to receive a proposal,” she said.

“We want to ensure that any ensure that any proposal responds to a needs analysis, which is currently being undertaken.

“Regardless of what comes next the needs analysis will help inform our decisions around the Aquatic Centre.

“Once again I want to stress that no deal or decision has been made.”

But the unsolicited bids process continues to anger some councillors, with area councillor Robert Simms telling InDaily he plans to move a motion without notice at tonight’s council meeting calling for the process to be suspended until the needs analysis for the Aquatic Centre has been finalised.

The council has engaged an independent consultant to conduct the analysis, which is expected to determine the “scale and key features that should be prioritised to best meet the current and future needs of the community”.

The analysis, which is not likely to be completed until December, will also include a review of the current Aquatic Centre’s visitation.

“It’s foolhardy to be having conversations with a third party when we haven’t even determined what the community wants from its public pool,” Simms said.

“I think the community have rightly been baffled by this process – people have been saying council is putting the cart before the horse.

“I’m hoping we can put the brakes on this tonight. I’m seeking advice from administration on how best to achieve this and will be putting a motion to council tonight.”

InDaily asked a council spokesperson to provide further information about the needs analysis, including who the council had engaged to lead the consultation, why it decided to wait until now to conduct the analysis and how the analysis would likely impact the proposed design.

The spokesperson is yet to respond.

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