Discussions to replace the ageing Adelaide Aquatic Centre in the northern park lands with a new sport and recreation facility run by the Adelaide Football Club are shrouded in secrecy, with the council unable to consult the public until it receives a formal proposal from the club.
The bid is classified as an “unsolicited proposal” and is the first to be considered in accordance with a set of council guidelines adopted in mid-2017 during the last council term.
Those guidelines stipulate that individuals or organisations can pitch “new” and “innovative” developments costing over $100,000 on council-owned or managed land – including the park lands.
The Crows’ bid to build on the park lands has divided the community, with those in opposition arguing the club should not be allowed to build a commercial venture on public land, while those in favour welcoming the potential replacement of the costly and ageing Adelaide Aquatic Centre.
Area councillor Robert Simms, one of Town Hall’s most vocal opponents of the bid, has lodged a motion calling on the council to amend its unsolicited proposals guidelines to prevent developments on the park lands.
Simms told InDaily the guidelines were “totally inappropriate” for dealing with developments on the park lands, as they prohibited the council from informing the public from the outset about potential infringements on public land.
“The problem with the unsolicited bid process is it has to be in confidence, so it just mandates discussions happening behind closed doors,” he said.
“That’s because it’s based around the idea that if somebody has some sort of innovative or exciting concept they need to be able to protect their IP (intellectual property).
“It doesn’t suit public land appropriately at all because by its very nature there’s a public interest in public land and the community should be engaged throughout.”
Simms, who earlier this year unsuccessfully lobbied the council to halt its consideration of the Crows’ bid, described the handling of the proposal as a “total fiasco from the get-go”.
“Developments on the park lands should come to council for consideration and if there is an argument to be made around confidentiality then that can be made on its merits, as is the case with any other development, rather than them automatically being a default assumption that it’s in confidence,” he said.
“If someone wants to put a project to the council for the park lands, they need to accept that there’s public interest in that and the public has the right to know.”
If Simms’ motion passes next month, it would not impact the Crows’ unsolicited bid, but would prevent other individuals or organisations from lodging similar proposals on the park lands in the future.
The way we carried out our discussions should have been better, more transparent and public
Councillors from both sides of the council chamber – including those on the Team Adelaide majority faction and the so-called “independents”, including Simms – have admitted the council’s unsolicited proposals guidelines are far from perfect.
“Personally, I wouldn’t have an issue with a change to the policy, but that shouldn’t happen without full consideration,” said Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad, who is aligned with Team Adelaide.
“I believe many lessons would have been learnt from this process that should be put into a workshop for councillors to determine next steps.”
Abiad said he supported the council preventing development on the park lands, but warned “people with good ideas shouldn’t be discouraged from approaching Council”.
“Like anything, this is the first iteration of a very progressive policy endorsed unanimously by Council that allows for any business or community group to approach and partner with Council without the need to jump through hoops.”
Fellow Team Adelaide councillors Arman Abrahimzadeh and Mary Couros called for a broader review of the council’s unsolicited proposals guidelines.
“What we have done with the Crows, some of those discussions and consultations should have been done differently,” Abrahimzadeh said.
“The way that I see is, what we ended up doing, the way we carried out our discussions should have been better, more transparent and public.
“It’s not just a matter of adjusting with the park lands – it should be the whole thing.”
Couros added that a review should happen after the Crows’ unsolicited proposal process is finalised.
“The process seems quite great however in trying this process we have substantiated that there are some things that we need to review,” she said.
“To go ahead in the way he (Simms) is going is not logical. He is only looking at one aspect but maybe there are lots of aspects we need to look at.”
But Team Adelaide members’ support for a wholesale policy review has drawn ire from those unaligned with the majority faction, including Anne Moran, who described the guidelines as “just as stupid and nonsensical now as they were to begin with”.
“This is classic Team Adelaide behaviour,” she said.
“As soon as a non-Team Adelaide member puts something up that they actually agree with they just try to one-up it.
“I would support Rob, I would support a review, I would support saving time and vote just to get rid of it (the policy).”
Simms said he would also support a broader review, but insisted his motion to first consider excluding the park lands from the guidelines was necessary.
“It seems like another Team Adelaide move to water down a sensible motion and delay action,” he said.
“There is broad consensus from the community on wanting this process not to be used for the park lands, so if there is broad consensus on that then lets first deal with that.
“I think they are making a meal out of an entrée.”
A council “needs analysis” assessing the current usage of the Adelaide Aquatic Centre is still underway and is due to be released by the end of the year.
The council will vote on Simms’ motion late next month.
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