Cricketer says council needs to act on Wauchope sports precinct

Plans for the Wauchope Sporting Precinct still haven't come to fruition.

Plans for the Wauchope Sporting Precinct still haven't come to fruition.

Questions are being asked about why the Wauchope sports complex is still being delayed.

Gavin Newbound from Wauchope RSL Cricket Club says that while most people believe the Hastings Sporting Fields complex is a new project, and in response at the time to the loss of Tuffins Lane by the local Touch Football Association, the history goes back much further to the Wilbur Trotter Reserve.

"Importantly, touch football was never a part of the original development. Almost 20 years, ago, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council bought the Stoney Creek land," he said.

In 2004, the council developed a masterplan for the site, costing $1.25m and council rates increased for projects which also included the Glasshouse.

"In the PMHC 'Corporate Plan 2005/06 - 2007/08', $250,000 was to be spent on Stage 1 for Wilbur Trotter Reserve in 2005/06, with the remaining $250,000 of Stage 1 being allocated in 2006/07," said Mr Newbound.

"From a PMHC meeting during the initial period, the first $250,000 carried over to 2006/07 with advice that the project would commence in October 2006, and be completed in January 2007. This did not occur, with the $750,000 for the remaining stages therefore unable to commence.

"Naturally all capital works programs planned from 2005/06 were cancelled due to 'blowout' costs of The Glasshouse, which led to the PMHC being placed in administration. The repercussions were much greater than can be imagined, as other than creating a backlog of capital works, costs of capital works programs have since increased dramatically," he added.

"At this point it became apparent that the council-owned Wilbur Trotter Reserve was no longer a priority project, where instead the land became leased to the public for agistment purposes," he said.

"The council sold Timbertown in 2010 for $1.6m, with funds expected to go to the Wauchope pool. As reported in the Wauchope Gazette on 20/11/2014, the cost without the indoor pool was $2,677,000. Lyne MP David Gillespie was able to provide $1.5m for the project, add in the sale of Timbertown for $1.6m plus PMHC funds from the general account of $1m, total available funds available were $4.1m.

"$1.423m has therefore disappeared which could have been directed to the Hastings Sporting Fields (including $423,000 of leftover Timbertown funds)."

Mr Newbound said that when the local Touch Football Association looked like losing Tuffins Lane to private development, the only council-owned land ready for development was Wilbur Trotter Reserve, to be renamed the Hastings Sporting Fields.

The plan for the Hastings Sporting Fields as a regional sporting complex for a number of sports was developed, with Cricket NSW prepared to inject $500,000 into developing a Centre of Excellence on the site (as they have done for a number of regional centres).

"While objections to the project were raised by the Touch Association due to the travel of Port Macquarie-based players to Wauchope, it is normal practice in the Port Macquarie - Hastings LGA (as well as any rural area) that players across a number of sports travel for competition (which also encourages greater participation when half your matches are guaranteed to be played at home)," said Mr Newbound.

"For sports such as netball and hockey, Wauchope and Camden Haven players must play all their matches in Port Macquarie.

"However while a number of sports were included in the Hastings Sporting Fields plans, the objection from the touch association provided the greatest weight in PMHC decisions. This is despite other sports being involved in the development, and planned since 2004 without touch football involvement.

"Of the Wauchope-based Councillors, Lisa Intermann already had a knowledge of the history. For Cr Sharon Griffiths, she publicly announced her preference for PMHC to purchase the flood-prone Tuffins Lane (over developing the Hastings Sporting Fields).

"When PMHC lost interest in the project when the Catholic Church came to the party to purchase Tuffins Lane and remain a sporting field for the foreseeable future, the only ongoing support for the Hastings Sporting Fields came from Port Macquarie-based Councillors (eg. Turner and Cusato).

"If PMHC were prepared to spend the funds on a Tuffins Lane purchase and if they are no longer required to do this, where are those funds that could have been directed to the Hastings Sporting Fields?

"Like all projects, PMHC do require co-funding from state and federal sources. Given the NSW State Election was held earlier this year, pre-election Oxley MP Melinda Pavey had been encouraging and waiting for the PMHC to apply for funding for the Hastings Sporting Fields, with Melinda Pavey having a good in-depth knowledge of the project.

"Given Wauchope is in Melinda Pavey's Oxley electorate and Port Macquarie in Leslie Williams electorate, PMHC potentially had two bites of the cherry. No application was received by Melinda from PMHC with entire focus instead on the Port Macquarie electorate, with Melinda having no option but to direct funding elsewhere (including $15m on sporting facilities in the Macleay).

"This was a major opportunity that went begging, and considering the Hastings fields had been on the drawing board since 2004. Like many non-coastal towns in NSW, Wauchope is a sporting town.

"Across a number of sports, Wauchope makes up roughly 40% of active participants in local competition, with local competition therefore reliant on Wauchope fielding teams. This is despite Wauchope being roughly one-sixth the size of Port Macquarie.

"The rate is even higher in rugby league, and as low as roughly 20% in netball where players must travel each week to Port Macquarie to play (so there is a definite link, and the argument for developing netball courts for competition in Wauchope).

"Developing sporting infrastructure is therefore important to Wauchope when currently the PMHC focus much of their funding to tourism and coastal activities with little benefit elsewhere.

"With these sporting fields going from high priority to low priority (as Wilbur Trotter Reserve), back to high priority and returning to low priority (as the Hastings Sporting Fields), it does have local sporting associations confused over the 'flip-flopping' and direction of PMHC. As volunteers, PMHC totally drain us mentally in changes in position when planning and allocating our own budgets is concerned."

Mr Newbound points to sporting facilities in Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, Lismore and Ballina where councils place a great emphasis on sporting tourism and developing local sporting infrastructure, due to benefits they provide the local economy, as well as health and social benefits to the community.

He says events like Iron Man and the Touch carnival are of no benefit to towns such as Wauchope.

"Newcastle is the coastal, geographic centre of NSW and with Port Macquarie just over two hours away, there is a natural benefit of our region to attract a number of carnivals in the NSW sporting calendar, but we have lost our advantage as a result of sub-standard sporting facilities.

"These sports now look elsewhere to regional centres where councils place greater emphasis on developing sporting infrastructure for the benefit of local economies.

"As Wilbur Trotter Reserve / Hastings Sporting Fields is once again low priority, pressure is currently on PMHC to develop a field at Sancrox which will only end up benefiting a single sport when construction is complete (being soccer/football).

"If this does occur and given the currently under-utilised Regional Stadium exists, the priority status of the multi-sport Hastings Sporting Fields will once again be downgraded in favour of another single-sport facility closer to Port Macquarie (refer to the $1M plus allocation to the Port Macquarie Hockey Association as a single example).

"For businesses such as motels and food outlets, and the multiplier effect this has on ongoing spending and employment opportunities cannot be ignored. Other regions recognise this, and that is why they are consistently successful in grant-funding opportunities," he added.

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