Four community proposals for $100 million regional sports infrastructure fund brought to council

Council chambers were, unusually, full to the rafters at the last meeting.

And a $100 million regional sports infrastructure fund was the reason for the unprecedented interest in council matters.

Under the Restart NSW funding initiative, regional areas will be able to apply for grants to invest in new and existing venues to improve participation and performance in sports.

The funding program opened on August 7 and has a four-year lifespan.

Applications must be for capital projects over $1 million, meaning that regional areas in NSW are competing for a maximum of 100 grants over the four year period.

“What we’re looking at here is roughly 25 projects per year across NSW, so we’d be very lucky to get one,” Cr Susan Jenvey said.

So far there have been four proposals submitted and so council was tasked with ranking them in priority order. 

Members of the Macksville Marlins turned up in droves to support their president, Dianne Wall, as she advocated for the council to consider their proposal to heat the 50m outdoor pool at the Macksville Memorial Aquatic Centre.

The club and the community have been asking for the pool to be heated for some years now, but have been consistently denied because of the ongoing costs involved. 

Ms Wall detailed the economic benefits that would come from an increase in squad numbers, learn to swim programs, school swim and survive programs, regional carnivals, and development days, which she says more than cover the annual costs involved.

“As it stands, we are one of, if not the only, local government area between Newcastle and Tweed Heads that does not have access to a council run 25m or 50m heated pool,” Ms Wall said.

“People miss our carnival when there’s a chance to go to carnivals on a weekend either side of ours at a town with a heated pool.”

One of the criteria considered by the funding body is that the grant money will be used to benefit more than one sporting code.

Ms Wall said that other codes of sports have shown interest in the proposal too, and will benefit through recovery, cross-training and development sessions.

“In less than two weeks, we have received more than 44 letters of support from local businesses, sporting groups and individuals and over 300 signatures in support of this project,” Ms Wall said.

She said this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Macksville to ‘reinvent itself’ ahead of looming changes to the town.

“Given the highway will very shortly be bypassing our community, we need to find ways to bring people in off the highway to visit our great valley,” Ms Wall said.

Retired Bowraville Central School teacher Paul Le Cerf spoke in favour of another proposal—the restructure and refurbishment of the Hennesy Tape Oval.

The proposal is a major part of the plan for the Bowraville Connections project, and includes conversion of a tennis court to basketball/netball courts; a new clubhouse for the Bowra Tigers, Bowra netball and Goannas rugby union; a children’s playground; integrated pathways to draw all the elements together.

Mr Le Cerf said that while the other three proposals all had merit, the Bowraville sporting upgrade ‘ticked all the boxes’ according to what the funding body was looking for.

He said that the Bowraville Recreation Club near ‘the mish’ would become a major focus in the restructure of the precinct and would hopefully attract separate funding for an upgrade.

The club has a large Aboriginal membership and Mr Le Cerf said it was ‘a shame’ that they had to celebrate in such ‘dilapidated conditions’.

“It’s time for Bowraville to get a bit of good news,” Mr Le Cerf said.

“It’ll help grow and heal the community.”

A third proposal put to council was to install lighting and drainage at the EJ Biffin playing fields in Nambucca Heads.

And lastly was a proposal to develop 2.5 hectares of open space at Macksville Heights Dv into carparks and sporting fields. 

Councillor John Ainsworth raised concerns about council needing to decide the fate of the proposals.

“There’s a lot of good proposals here, wouldn’t prioritising be up to the people assessing the proposals?” Cr Ainsworth asked.

General manager Michael Coulter reminded council that submitting expressions of interests for all four proposals would be costly in terms of labour.

“Feedback from the funding body might inform us what our priority is,” Mayor Rhonda Hoban said.

“But the one that’s the most ready to go is the Bowraville one.”

A motion was passed unanimously to eliminate the fourth proposal for Macksville Heights Dr to focus on the other three. 

“But I just want to make a note that it’s not because of merit, but because it’s the least prepared,” Mayor Hoban said.

The council unanimously deferred the decision of ranking the remaining proposals until more advice had been sought from the funding body. 

The matter will be addressed again at the council meeting on September 28.