Ballarat councillors in secret meeting to redirect Civic Hall budget to other projects

BALLARAT’S mayor is holding secret meetings in a bid to siphon millions of dollars promised to redevelop the Civic Hall site into other projects.

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A senior council insider has revealed mayor John Philips outlined plans to extract a significant portion of the $8 million allocated in the council’s budget to repair the derelict hall.

It is believed Cr Philips is seeking the support of his fellow councillors to drain up to $5 million to pump into other projects he considers more important.

The Courier understands a meeting was held between councillors and the mayor at the Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the proposal.

In a document seen by The Courier, Cr Philips put forward his own alternative budget, which outlined that millions of dollars should be used for other projects including repairing rural roads, revamping the Sebastopol Library, the Black Hill lookout, Ballarat Botanical Gardens’ ferneries and improving lighting at Lake Wendouree.

Save Civic Hall vie-president Paul Gordon-Smith is disturbed by the revelation.

Save Civic Hall vie-president Paul Gordon-Smith is disturbed by the revelation.

The alternative budget also outlined that no funding would be allocated to other areas, including the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

The source said Cr Philips told councillors during the meeting there were “no concrete plans in place” to do anything with funding allocated, so it would be more beneficial to the community to pump the money into other projects that were “ready to go”.

The insider said councillors were divided on the concept, with some vehemently opposed to the idea and others calling for a smaller portion of Civic Hall funding to be used for projects that were in urgent need.

The source said other councillors said the public had voted them in, under the precedent that after decades of inaction a resolution would finally be found for the Civic Hall site.

Cr Philips told The Courier he would not comment on information discussed in a “confidential meeting” held between councillors.

He said that when a council budget was in the process of being created, all avenues were “always explored”. 

On Thursday, the City of Ballarat unveiled a $4.5m Priority Project Fund, on which it said it wanted to seek community feedback.

The project fund was strikingly similar to the alternative budget put forward by Cr Philips, with the exception of $100,000 being allocated to the art gallery.

It also earmarked $250,000 to reopen the Black Hill lookout. 

When The Courier asked the City of Ballarat where the

$4.5 million for the project fund would be taken from, it released a statement which said the money was set aside in the council’s “overall 2015-16 budget”.

The Courier sought further comment but repeated calls to the council were not returned before deadline.

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au

SAVE Civic Hall campaigners have condemned an idea put forward by Ballarat’s mayor which would see money drained from a multimillion-dollar fund dedicated to the hall and pumped into other projects.

Their concerns come in the wake of a revelation from a senior council insider that Ballarat mayor John Philips has outlined plans to extract a significant portion of the $8 million allocated in the council’s budget to repair the derelict hall.

The Courier understands Cr Philips was seeking the support of his fellow councillors to funnel up to $5 million into other projects he considered more important.

Save Civic Hall group member and vice-president of the Ballarat Ratepayers Association Paul Gordon-Smith said he was “disturbed” by the claims. 

“The whole idea of the participatory design process was to look at a formula that could be used in the future,” Mr Gordon-Smith said.

“The mayor knows there is community support for the continual usage of the hall and we expect that money will be available from November to go towards whatever is determined for the future of the site.”

Mr Gordon-Smith said many residents had “completely lost faith” in the transparency of the council’s leadership.

His sentiment was echoed by Save Civic Hall campaigner and president of the Ballarat Ratepayers Association Jonathan Halls. 

Mr Halls said the idea of removing millions from the funding already allocated to the site was “deeply concerning”, particularly because Cr Philips was in partnership with the Civic Hall group steering committee overseeing the current community design process.

“I’m very disappointed that if he has had these thoughts, he hasn’t seen it fit to share with the group,” Mr Halls said. “It suggests he is not fully committed to an outcome for the Civic Hall which would require the use of that money allocated in the near future.”

The revelation comes as public consultation continues at the Civic Hall site as part of a $2 million Participatory Community Design Process.

The City of Ballarat initially proposed that the $8 million allocated to the hall would be used to bring to life the design most favoured by the public after the consultation was complete. 

The latest round of consultation is seeking community feedback on adaptive re-uses of the site, with the public assisting in designing the future of the site. 

But the source revealed that if money was extracted from the Civic Hall funding, any plans canvassed for the site could become redundant.

Mr Halls said he would discuss the issue with the other members of the steering committee at a meeting in the coming days.