Outcry as council suspends Civic Hall demolition process

BALLARAT City Council has been criticised for its decision to suspend the planning process to demolish the Civic Hall, with public representatives saying it was a knee-jerk reaction to politics.

Save Civic Hall chairman Jonathan Halls said he rejected to the proposition that the Civic Hall could be used as a bargaining chip with government or commercial developers. 

He was one of 10 public representatives who presented their cases against the motion at last night’s council meeting. 

“Save Civic Hall rejects the proposition that the fate of the Civic Hall will be conditional on the outcome of a state election and on the delivery of an election promise by a political party,” Mr Halls said. 

“The Civic Hall and its site are non-negotiable community assets. They are not to be held ransom to the outcome of any political or commercial contest.

“By suspending rather than withdrawing the application for demolition, council is keeping the option of demolition alive, to be reactivated should political and or commercial gain seem to require this.”

The motion instigated by Councillor Amy Johnson came after Premier Denis Napthine made an election promise to relocate the VicRoads headquarters to Ballarat, in a new building on the Civic Hall site.

The council approved the motion, seven votes to two.  Councillors John Philips and Des Hudson voted against it. 

Following cries from the public at the meeting to change the suspension to a withdrawal of the demolition, Councillor Belinda Coates called for that same change. 

Councillor Johnson did not agree to changing it to a withdrawal of demolition, however she suggested that a community advisory committee be appointed. 

Reading from prepared notes after public submissions were made, Cr Johnson said the state government announcement presented a unique opportunity for councillors. 

She said it was a win-win for Ballarat, for VicRoads to come to Ballarat and use Civic Hall for adaptive reuse. 

She said the council would continue to put pressure on the opposition to match the government’s promise. 

City of Ballarat chief executive officer Anthony Schinck said although it had written to the government for confirmation, there was no written confirmation nor timeline for the VicRoads relocation.

Cr Hudson questioned what was in writing, and what concrete plans had been made. 

“With the very little information we know, this is a knee-jerk reaction because there’s an offer on the table.”

Cr Amy Johnson defended the motion, saying that a suspension of the demolition still allowed time for a debate. 

Cr Samantha McIntosh said she supported the motion as it was a way of moving forward. 

Belinda Coates supported the motion, but said there was a great deal of irony in it.

“Finally we’re seeing that we’re needing to work with the community, which is what we should have done all along.” 

Cr Coates apologised to the community for what they had been put through, which received applause from the chamber. 

Council-watcher Garry Fitzgerald said the Civic Hall shouldn’t be a political ping pong ball. 

In favour of the motion: councillors Amy Johnson, Josh Morris, Vicki Coltman, Sam McIntosh, Peter Innes, Belinda Coates, John Burt.

Against the motion: councillors John Philips and Des Hudson.

nicole.cairns@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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