Premier accuses Council of sitting on its hands while announcing Conservatorium upgrade

Artist’s impression of how the Con will look after its $2M refurbishment.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged Central Coast Council to “hop to it” if it wants State Government help in delivering a Performing Arts Centre (PAC) for Gosford as she announced a $2M refurbishment of Central Coast Conservatorium this week.
The Premier made it clear that $10M pledged for the PAC project in 2015, as part of a $12M package to include the $2M for the Con, could well be at jeopardy due to Council’s inaction.
The Premier visited the Con en-route to a Community Cabinet meeting at Mingara Recreation Centre with all 23 of her Ministers on September 30, joined by Arts Minister, Don Harwin, Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch, and Taylor Martin MLC.
“Musicians of the Coast have used this former courthouse and police station since 1987 and it’s high time it was brought up to date with new performance and equipment, essential refurbishment and safety upgrades,“ Berejiklian said.
“Providing an inspiring learning space will encourage students to want to learn music and teachers to give their best.
“I hope it will also attract other young people to think big in terms of musical study.
“This will be a real boost for the region, with students no longer having to travel long distances for a top class learning environment.”
First pledged in 2015 as part of a $12M commitment from the State Government towards performing arts infrastructure on the Coast, the $2M has been in limbo ever since, as plans for a PAC stalled.
Conservatorium Board President, Peter Brandon, said the decision to deliver the $2M earmarked specifically for the Con was “music to our ears”.
Brandon said the Con operates out of the oldest heritage listed building on the Coast, a collection of demountables and a host of halls, rooms and venues all over the Coast.
“This funding injection will allow us to transform the Con through sensitive refurbishment, upgrades to bathrooms, the kitchen, teaching and rehearsal spaces and bringing in a new piano and furniture, including seating in the Robert Knox Hall,” he said.
The funds will also allow master planning for long-term future capital works.
“We have a big vision for performing arts on the Coast.
“A combined Conservatorium and small acoustic concert hall that will become a vibrant educational and cultural hub for our region,” Brandon said.
Crouch described the announcement as a “watershed moment” for the Con and the entire region and Minister Harwin said the money would give the Con a “whole new lease of life” which would continue to inspire students and delight audiences for years to come.
Conservatorium Deputy Chair, Claire Braund, said master planning for the future could pave the way for a 500-600 seat acoustic performance hall, which is what the Coast “desperately needs”.
She said talks were ongoing with Council re a council owned block to the rear of the Con as a possible site.
“But this $2M allows us to start with a small footprint and build from there,” she said.
“We have been lobbying for many years for an appropriate music hall with an orchestra pit.
“We have some world-class musicians here and there is nowhere suitable for them to play on the Coast.”
Premier Berejiklian said the $10M originally pledged for a PAC (to be matched dollar for dollar by both the Federal Government and the then Gosford Council) had been put on the back burner due to lack of a suitable proposal.
“We are waiting for Central Coast Council to come to us with a proposal and we will consider it closely,” she said.
“This is the time to develop the region and Council is sitting on its hands not doing the work required.
“When councils and State Government work together, great things can happen.
“We have a sense of urgency but we don’t understand why council is not being more co-operative.”
The Premier’s comments and announcement come in the wake of a recent decision by Central Coast Council to review plans for a Cultural Precinct in the heart of Gosford incorporating a Regional Library and a Performing Arts Centre and concentrate instead on pushing through with plans for a library as a stand alone project.
Central Coast Mayor, Lisa Matthews, defended that decision after the Premier’s comments.
“Planning for the PAC is still ongoing and Council decided to proceed with plans for a Regional Library in an effort to secure Federal Government funding,” she said.
“Ratepayers have been paying a levy for a Regional Library for a long time.”
Clr Matthews called for affirmation of the $10M pledged in 2015 for a RPAC and said it was “perplexing” that it had not been affirmed at the same time as the $2M Conservatorium announcement.
Council’s Director Connected Communities, Julie Vaughan, said staff had completed all requirements for the funding, had “provided extensive documentation including evidence of stakeholder consultation, and repeatedly sought advice on the next steps to finalise a funding agreement”.
But Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch, and Taylor Martin, MLC, confirmed Council’s delay in delivering a PAC in Gosford could result in losing the $10M.
Crouch said $2M had been separated from the total $12M to allow the Conservatorium to upgrade its facilities and plan for the future.
“It has been over four years since this funding commitment (was made), and Council has not even turned a sod on the performing arts centre,” he said.
“The Department of Premier and Cabinet, or any Government representative, is yet to be presented with Council’s fully-funded final proposal.”
Martin said the proposed performing arts centre had undergone a number of changes since 2015, and was still not finalised.
“There needs to be accountability and value for money when taxpayer dollars are spent,” he said.

Press conference, Sep 30
Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch, Arts Minister, Don Harwin, Central Coast Conservatorium Board President, Peter Brandon
Interview, Sep 30
Central Coast Conservatorium Deputy Chair, Claire Braund
Interview, Sep 30
Central Coast Mayor, Lisa Matthews
Media release, Sep 30
Central Coast Mayor, Lisa Matthews
Media release, Sep 30
Member for Terrigal, Adam Crouch, and Taylor Martin MLC
Reporter: Terry Collins

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