Living Ballarat project running behind schedule

THE Victorian government’s flagship water cycle management project in Ballarat is running months behind schedule, amid claims a large portion of its $1million budget has been directed to the Office of Living Victoria’s chief scientist and other consultants.

The project, announced in mid-2011, aims to collect, treat and store the 9 billion litres of water the Office of Living Victoria estimates runs off Ballarat’s roofs and water-resistant surfaces each year.

Nearly three years after Water Minister Peter Walsh announced Ballarat would receive $1 million to begin transforming its water cycle management, the Living Ballarat project has yet to publicly release its stormwater harvesting plans or economic modelling.

Fairfax Media understands members of the Living Ballarat Project Control Board, appointed by Mr Walsh nearly 12 months ago, are frustrated by the sluggish progress. “It’s time to pull the finger out,’’ said one board member, who asked not to be named.

Well-placed sources claim up to $200,000 of the $1 million has been spent on analytical, modelling and technical services to measure the reforms proposed by OLV chief scientist Peter Coombes.

The OLV would not answer questions about how much of the budget had been directed to Dr Coombes and other consultants for analytical and modelling services.

A spokesman said: “OLV discloses matters around Living Ballarat contracts in line with Victorian government processes.’’

The government’s contract website does not display any tenders for modelling or technical services associated with the project. This suggests none of the work has been put to public tender.

Ballarat West Labor MP Sharon Knight said it was disappointing “there are no results for storm water or recycling.”

Before his appointment as the OLV’s chief scientist, Dr Coombes was the main consultant engaged by the Living Victoria ministerial advisory council that reported to Mr Walsh. The head of that council, Mike Waller, was appointed OLV chief executive last year. \

Another consultant working closely with Dr Coombes, Simon Want, was last March appointed head of the OLV office.

Neither Dr Coombes nor Mr Want’s jobs were publicly advertised. Fairfax has revealed probity issues around other large taxpayer-funded contracts awarded by the OLV to consultants, many with previous links to Dr Coombes and Mr Waller.

Very few of these contracts went to public tender.

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