About a dozen people spoke at the public hearing into 73-75 Mann St, Gosford, on March 30, attended by about 30 residents in total.
The hearing was held in a hot tent behind Gosford Stadium, with no mic for speakers competing against the traffic noise of cars and motorbikes crossing Brian McGowan Bridge and trains pulling into and out of Gosford station.
The Mann St land is being reclassified from “community” to “operational” so Council can sell it – possibly to the State Government for a new TAFE precinct.
One question was whether the new State Government would continue with the previous government’s plans to move TAFE from its current location in Henry Parry Drive to Mann St.
A council employee said the Minister’s reaction to the proposed reclassification will be one way to tell.
The State must approve the reclassification for it to go ahead.
In late 2021, the NSW Government signed a memo of understanding with Council to buy a number of blocks of land in Mann St Gosford for a TAFE precinct.
The TAFE proposal and the university planned for the other end of Mann St, Gosford, are meant to “bookend” a revitalised CBD.
The first speaker tonight, a 30 year old wearing a “Gossy Good Times” tee shirt, said the vision was not new.
“Gosford Primary School was the original educational bookend,” she said, to laughter from the crowd.
Gosford Primary School, which used to be further along Mann St towards the waterfront, was sold to the State Government – about ten years ago now – for a cultural precinct.
Instead of a performing arts centre, the Tax Office was built and beside it a second office block was built.
Now the first of three 25 storey buildings is currently being built on the area where kids used to play at lunchtime and drink their bottles of milk at recess.
In 2019, Council bought 73 and 75 Mann St as part of yet another plan for a cultural precinct, comprising a performing arts centre and a regional library.
Later in 2019, the arts centre was dropped but Council is continuing with a plan to build a regional library in Donnison St, almost directly opposite where the library is now, in Kibble Park.
The second speaker stop/started her speech, intriguing the crowd, as she kept moving around the room.
FInally she explained herself: “The performing arts and Cultural Precinct has had more false starts than me just now,” she said, outlining the different plans that have been announced over the years to revitalise the city and waterfront.
She said the meeting being held in a tent in an obscure location was a perfect reason to keep 73 and 75 Mann St: “we need more public spaces,” she said.
She complained that there was no public meeting to discuss the other council land in Mann St, including the old Broadwater Hotel site and the former Council chambers, that were also being sold as part of the TAFE proposal.
There was no public consultation because that land is already categorised as “operational”.
Another speaker said the fact that councillors did not move to reclassify 73-75 Mann St after they had resolved not to proceed with the cultural precinct, meant they had the foresight of reserving a decision on a future public purpose for the land.
He said selling the land to TAFE would no doubt be widely supported but the proposal as it stood could result in a sale to an unknown buyer and for purposes as yet undisclosed.
The council-under-administration agreed some months ago to sell the land in Mann St on the open market if a sale to the State Government did not proceed.
“As part of the proposal in hand, residents are being asked to consent to the sale of public land so that a predominantly commercial development on the Gosford waterfront can be facilitated,” the speaker said.
The council report to the meeting stated the money raised from the sale would be used for revitalising the cbd and the waterfront project.
The lack of community consultation came up in speech after speech.
“Reconsider,” said one, “Wait until we have democratically elected councillors and we can discuss this.”
“Pause,” said another, “Let’s hold on to what we have.”
Council has been under administration since November 2020.
Next elections are scheduled for September 2024.
A report will go to the administrator in coming months, reporting on the sentiment of the public hearing and outlining recommendations for the next steps.