Mayoral candidate David Grace today hit out at Eurobodalla Council Shire’s (ESC) refusal to acknowledge its proposed Batemans Bay Pavilions gymnasium and associated ratepayer-subsidised entry fees will likely force some local businesses to the wall.
Mr Grace will tell Mayor Liz Innes — if she attends — and councillors at their monthly meeting today the council response to Eurobodalla Labor’s concerns about the undercutting of the seven existing gym and fitness centre charges is a recipe for bankruptcy.
“Eurobodalla Labor for Council understand the Batemans Bay gym operators’ fears that the new Pavilions’ fees will send them broke,” Mr Grace said, “and nothing the council has said in response to almost a dozen submissions from ratepayers and business owners addresses that. Seven existing gymnasium, fitness centre and yoga studio operators banded together against council’s proposed charges for the new 1000sq/m facility and aside from a dollar here and a dollar there in variations to the proposed fees, council has all but ignored their pleas.
“Labor supports Bay business.
“The opening of a new gym — the eighth such facility for a community struggling after the Black Summer Bushfires, and now an extended COVID pandemic and consequent lockdowns — is a waste of ratepayers’ hard-earned money
“Mayor Innes, and the councillors who support her, claim the gym will be part of a ‘vibrant and diverse economy’ within the new Bay Pavilions when it opens in 2022. Our assessment is it will simply drive a number of small gym businesses into a stagnant and despondent economic free-fall,” he said.
Onelife’s owner Tracy Innes says “it’s simply not fair”. Onelife has successfully operated in Bateman’s Bay for more than a decade.
Mayoral candidate David Grace said the important issue of competitive neutrality – a level playing field for all businesses – continues to be overlooked in council’s pricing. He said where ESC competes in the marketplace with other private businesses, it must do so on the basis it does not exploit its ratepayer subsidised position to gain an unfair advantage.
“Labor’s submission queried ESC’s obligation to comment on the National Competition Policy program and associated guidelines,” Mr Grace said “and specifically around an obligation that all governments ensure their publicly owned businesses do not enjoy any net competitive advantage simply because they are publicly owned.
“While council is not technically obliged to report on competition neutrality, we would have expected our elected representatives would have been aware of the high level of public concern from the number of submissions made to their pricing, and done so.
“Frankly, there is no need for yet another gym or fitness facility in Batemans Bay; it’s as simple as that.
“The council needs to reconsider its plans in regard to the potential detriment of existing small businesses,” he added.
Eurobodalla Labor for Council candidates believe the council, in partnership with local Batemans Bay businesses, need to consider better utilisation of the space.
“If we are elected, we will call for a review of the plans, including a review of any contracts already signed,” said Councillor candidate and local builder Matthew Findlay. “We think there is an opportunity here, for example, for a children’s soft play area, a mini-golf circuit and/or even a ‘flip-out’ or trampoline centre.
“That way it would cater for locals and tourists, be especially attractive as an indoor, safe and dry play area for families with children, and not be unfairly competing as a gym – something with which the Batemans Bay area is already well provided.
“Let’s be clear: Eurobodalla Labor for Council is committed to making this $69M project work as well as it can, and that includes supporting the community, including small businesses.
“We want the Pavilions to succeed, but not at the expense of existing small businesses.
“The local economy will take many years to return to some degree of normality, let alone to the point where local residents will have sufficient disposable income to keep an eighth — ratepayer-subsidised — gym and fitness centre operational,” Mr Findlay said.
Labor’s candidates in the 4 December local government elections are: for mayor, David Grace from Broulee; and as councillors, Maureen Searson from Batehaven, Matthew Findlay from Batemans Bay, Claire McAsh from Moruya, Deirdre Russack from Narooma, and Jack Egan from Rosedale.