A heated debate was held during the February ordinary Armidale Regional Council meeting last week over the speed of land sales at the Armidale Airside Business Park.
Speaking with the Express after the meeting, Councillor Andrew Murat said council staff only seem to look at cost cuts, deferring projects or raising fees and charges to keep the budget in line while there are other alternatives.
"We have this land which we can use to generate money, and there is council's woeful ability to turn a project into a mess, and we've got to address those issues," Cr Murat said.
"My opinion on council's management of the Airside Business Park is not very high.
"If you look at the developer across the road, he has just started his development, and in 14 weeks, he's going to put in 8 development applications to council.
"He's been working on that project for about as long as the council has been working on the Airside Business Park project. He's doing a fantastic job, and we need his development to fire in unison with our project."
Cr Murat said potential Airside Business Park buyers had been turned away by senior council staff.
"We had a car hire company, and we couldn't find a site for them, so they went across the road," Cr Murat said.
"They are an airport-related business, but the site they wanted was deemed to be 'strategic to the future development of the airport' by former management, and now it's too late, and they've bought a block across the road.
"We've had numerous people interested in the motel site, and they've been and gone. That site is worth $1.5 million for heaven's sake, but it was also deemed to be of strategic importance."
The NSW Government announced in 2019 its Growing Local Economies Fund would provide $6 million for Armidale Council to complete a $6.5 million project to install roads, water mains, telecommunications, National Broadband Network and other infrastructure on nearly 90ha of development land, which was released at the airport.
"We got in and got stage one finished pretty quickly," Mr Murat said.
"But that was five months ago, and council still haven't completed the registration of the lots.
"Because council is moving at council speed, they are losing opportunities for alternative income and to create economic development and jobs.
"We were given that grant to create economic growth for Armidale and the region, and we've got to start to sell the land.
"I can't say a lot for commercial reasons, but there have been other people making enquiries about sites out there, and they've been blocked.
"I have had a gut full."
Speaking for his motion at last week's meeting, Cr Murat said there had been about $3 million generated by land sales to date, and as the pricing for the lots is set in council's fees and charges, a staged development will not have an impact on it.
"And selling the motel site off the plan before the work is complete will not deter a developer but could drive enquiry for other blocks," he said.
"We must vote to move this project on and give the GM the resources he needs to achieve the desired result of improving councils bottom line, creating jobs and economic growth for our community."
Councillor Jon Galletly seconded Cr Murat's motion.
"I'm personally sick of being the laughing stock of the business community as far as this goes," he said.
"We're not recreating the wheel with this - it is an industrial development, and if it was in private hands, it would have been well and truly over a long time ago.
"Let's get it on the market, and let's get a bit of money going in there and give the community a bit of confidence in us. This is a very good way of getting the community behind us."
Armidale general manager James Roncon suggested deferring the motion to be part of the budget process so the council could define what it was they wanted to see at the development and how it would be funded.
"I am sympathetic to what has been expressed by Councillor Murat, and I respect there is a desire to get on with the project, but in fairness to council and given where we are in the financial year, we need to acknowledge that we are in a tight financial situation," Mr Roncon said.
"I know the desire is to want to see us move out of that, but what we really need to try and avoid is the perception of policy on the run with adopting a motion like this.
"It's clear to me there is a bit a breakdown between what the council are seeing as being the ultimate vision of this project versus what the staff are delivering.
"I really would suggest that, if you can see your way clear to, you refer this to the budget process where we can sit down and hash it out and get a clear understanding of where we want to be and what the ultimate goal is.
"Do we want boutique clean industry type businesses to go in there? Or are we happy to have whatever might come along?
"And then to understand how we are actually going to fund the motel and the transport museum side - I really do feel the budget process is the right place to hash this out and get a clear way forward."
Despite an amendment being put forward by Councillor O'Brien that the matter be deferred to be part of the draft budget deliberations, the motion as made by Cr Murat was carried.
Funds from the recent sale of the service centre lot will be used to complete the road from the roundabout to the terminal and develop at least one cul-de-sac of the airside part of the development.
The proposed motel site will be put on the market and will be sold by a process as determined by the marketing agent and the general manager to achieve the best market value.
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