Cultural Precinct costs could soar to well over $200m

Central Coast Councillor, Greg Best, has called for more public transparency around planning for a Cultural Precinct in the heart of Gosford, and fears costs for the project could soar to well over $200m.
Discussions on the precinct, mooted for a large block of land between Mann and Donnison Sts, continue to be done in confidential mode, as commercial negotiations proceed relating to some land acquisitions necessary to see the project come to fruition.
But Clr Best is fearful that a cost blowout could lead to a situation similar to the sacking in 2008 of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council for mishandling the construction of the cultural and entertainment centre known as the Glasshouse.
Then Local Government Minister, Paul Lynch, sacked the council after the project’s cost blew out from $6m in 2002 to over $40m.
Clr Best says costs associated with the Gosford Cultural Precinct, which will incorporate a regional library, performing arts centre, linking walkways and car parking, could well “be heading north of $200m, including acquisition and construction”.
“With overruns and unforeseen problems, this project could conceivably move towards quarter of a billion dollars,” he said.
“This is likely to be the biggest civic project in Australia, I think, and the public should be kept informed of the costs.”
Clr Best said $4-5m had already been spent on planning for the project.
“This is almost half of the total cost of the Wyong Art House,” he said.
“The former Wyong Council provided a state of the art venue with around 500 seats and a fly tower for $12.5m.”
Council will provide a public update on the precinct as soon as commercial negotiations have concluded and will look into the cost of engaging an auditor to report on risks in relation to land acquisition and capital/construction costs, including operating costs over a 10 year scenario, following a successful motion from Clr Best at the June 24 meeting.
“But this doesn’t go far enough,” he said.
“This money could really be better spent elsewhere.
“We have a $150m backlog on roads, sewerage, drainage and critical infrastructure.
“I believe the people of Gosford are absolutely entitled to a performing arts facility similar to the Wyong facility, in fact it is well overdue.
“But this has blown out to extraordinary proportions.
“Twelve months ago, I formally moved that Council engage Price Waterhouse Coopers to do a thorough risk analysis of this project and was voted down.
“I just want us to get it right.”
Councillors unanimously supported Best’s motion, with, Clr Doug Vincent, noting that although a “reality check” would be a good idea, Gosford residents definitely needed a library and a community space and had been paying a rates levy for the purpose.
Mayor, Jane Smith, said the Cultural Precinct would play an important role in stimulating activity in the CBD.
“It’s a large project and Council is negotiating the purchase of some properties,” she said.
“Once that is complete, detailed design work will begin.”

Agenda item 7.1
Central Coast Council Ordinary Meeting, Jun 24
Interview, Jun 25
Central Coast Mayor, Jane Smith
Interview, Jun 26
Central Coast Councillor, Greg Best
Reporters: Terry Collins and Merilyn Vale

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