Geraldton councillors reveal arguments behind divisive purchase offer for flattened Blue Heelers Tavern site
An opportunity too good to miss or not the council’s responsibility?
Geraldton councillors were close to evenly split on that question as they debated whether to offer to buy the flattened Old Victoria Hotel block and the lot behind it, with the City proposing to turn the site into a “green laneway” and carpark.
The City of Greater Geraldton council passed the item at its ordinary April meeting last Tuesday in a seven-five vote following an investigation requested by Mayor Shane Van Styn and endorsed by the council in March.
While a City spokesperson said there were “no formal plans” for the site — cleared after a fire gutted the old abandoned building — a concept plan by design company UDLA showed the area could be used as a vegetated laneway, recreation area and carpark to connect pedestrians to Foreshore Drive from the city centre.
Crs David Caudwell, Steve Douglas, Kim Parker, Jerry Clune and deputy president Tarleah Thomas voted against the motion, while the 13th councillor, Natasha Colliver, declared an impartiality interest as Chair of Pollinators Inc, which has a lease over two of the buildings on the same super block.
Cr Caudwell moved the item, but spoke against it, telling the Geraldton Guardian he felt so strongly about the issue he wanted to have the first and last word in the debate.
He said the role of local government was to address community needs, rather than wants, while the proposed development of the site was not in line with public feedback he had seen.
“I was not in support of the council attempting to purchase the Batavia Motor Inne as we didn’t have a strategic purpose other than to knock it down so it didn’t offend people ... then we moved on to the old fire station and now Blue Heelers with the lot behind it,” he said.
“There’s a whole lot we’re held responsible for that we’re not, and one of those things is taking care of derelict buildings.
“The council has done its duty in attempting to order the demolition of the Batavia Motor Inne.
“I like the idea and I love the concept, I really do but the budget is set to be in deficit, if we had a surplus, and a pressing and clear strategic need, I may have felt differently.
“I’m failing to see why we’re so keen to buy real estate when we don’t have a plan.
“I would rather see that money go to upgrading the basketball stadium to make it suitable as a future evacuation centre.”
Cr Sally Elphick seconded the motion and voted in support, saying it was a great opportunity to create connectivity between Marine Terrace and Lester Avenue through a green space.
“Because the market is perhaps lower, I just saw it as a great opportunity,” she said.
“A lot of people online have mentioned that they’d love more green areas, natural environment park land, so I’m all in favour of that.”
“I voted in support that they look at purchasing the land but there are many options that it can be used for.
“What happens after that will be up for discussion.”
The council agreed to an undisclosed maximum price the City would offer for the two lots, with the amount to be made public in three months time.
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