According to Clarence Valley Council’s works and civil director, Troy Anderson, the media’s reporting on public dissatisfaction surrounding the council’s long and convoluted process to upgrade McLachlan Park may have encouraged prospective contractors to lodge tenders well above the project’s budget.
Answering a question from Cr Jim Simmons, who asked, “Where do we go to from here?” at last week’s council meeting, Mr Anderson said: “We believe that due to some of the press and previous discussions that have been held in regard to the matter that the contractors have priced a large amount of associated risk into the tender and … maybe some stop work associated with that.”
Councillor Karen Toms said: “We are asked to go back and negotiate; do you seriously expect risk contingencies are the cause that the prices are way out of budget?”
Meanwhile, Cr Jason Kingsley made a successful amendment to the officer’s recommendation, adding the inclusion of a “compliant access ramp … leading from the centrally located shelter onto the boardwalk”.
Subsequently, Cr Andrew Baker foreshadowed a motion, “that council take no further action on the McLachlan Park construction”.
Councillor Toms, who seconded Cr Baker’s motion, opposed the officer’s recommendation to not accept any of the tenders for the project and that “staff enter into negotiations with Ark Construction Group Pty Ltd, Landscape Solutions (Qld) Pty Ltd, and Van Mal Group Construction Pty Ltd, with a view to entering into a contract on the basis that those three firms were assessed as having the best understanding of the project”.
“The prices in the confidential report are nowhere near what we can afford,” Cr Toms said.
“I can’t see how discussing with tenderers … [will] bring it back to what we can afford; we should just go back to the basics”.
Mayor Williamson said he believed the council should ask the contractors “for justification of the higher rates”.
He said that there should be negations with the contractors before throwing “the baby out with the bathwater” and that giving up on the project would not be in the interests of the people of NSW and Clarence Valley residents.
“Let’s get all the information and make an informed decision,” he said. “I’m also speaking against the foreshadowed motion.”
Councillor Baker was scathing of the process to date, saying that the council had collected “information on this since February 2010 … [and] by June 2012 the previous council had resolved to do something; they were clear and precise as to what they wanted”.
He said the Maclean Riverside Precinct Plan, prepared by Clouston Associates, “had responded to the wishes of the whole area … to give us a plan that provided a boardwalk, reduce the height of dirt … in the park and move the toilets.
“…Sure, it could be embellished, but at low cost…. Now we’ve spent $283,000 … on planning [and] destroyed any semblance of the original idea of a boardwalk.
“…this council should accept that it cannot do this and back away from it.”
Councillor Simmons said he could be “equally comfortable” supporting Cr Baker’s motion, and that Cr Kingsley’s amendment “was good”.
“At the start of this I expected to see the dirt mound removed and a walkway come along and perhaps move the toilet.
“From there we’ve just sort of bungled along … this has gone on and on, it’s a ridiculous situation.
“I’m amazed at the cost to get to this point. We’re living in fairyland to think tenderers would drop their prices back to where the budget is.”
Councillor Jason Kingsley said it would be “irresponsible” to not allow staff to negotiate and brought up the lack of disabled access in the middle of the park with staff “on numerous occasions”.
He recalled that he was late to a workshop, but was “told by Cr Toms, ‘no, no, it’s okay, we’ve talked about it and it’s fine,’ … and [that it] had gone through the Lower Clarence Access Committee”.
“Naively, I accepted that the access issue … had been addressed,” he said.
Councillors Craig Howe and Margaret McKenna spoke in favour of negotiations taking place.
“If it comes back and it doesn’t [meet the budget], you [Cr Baker] may get your way and do nothing,” Cr Howe said.
He said negotiations could result in “actually doing something in Maclean … we’re almost there; don’t give up on it yet”.
Councillor McKenna posed the possibility of retaining the camphor laurel trees.
“Maybe they make it go over budget,” she said. “Seriously, we have invested a lot of time into this development and I certainly can’t give up on it … Maclean deserves better.”
Councillors voted in favour of not accepting the tenders and commencing negotiations.
Councillor Arthur Lysaught left the chambers (without explanation) while the vote took place. Councillors Toms and Baker opposed the resolution.