180 To Protect and Preserve

HORSES FOR COURSES: MDSRC LEASE AGREEMENT


On 9 October, Maleny and District Sports and Recreation Club wrote to members about the Maleny Equestrian Group’s plan to set up facilities on the Precinct using MDSRC’s site and MDSRC’s lease agreement.

MDSRC justified this unusual arrangement by saying that it had the support of the Precinct Advisory Group.

This overstates the power of PAG which has no formal responsibility for the management of the precinct or for specific projects on the precinct.


Council is free to negotiate independently with PAG members who have an agreement to lease, and need only consult PAG if some other suitable user group seeks tenure in its own right.


This is the hub of the matter.


Agreements to Lease

Agreements to lease were allocated by Council to MDSRC, the Maleny Golf Club, Pattemore House and Barung Land Care before the suitability of their allocated sites could be fully tested, geologically, logistically and in relation to each other.


Barung has been moved to different sites, twice. Maleny Swimming Club moved off-Precinct when it was discovered that its site was solid rock.


MDSRC is also moving facilities off-Precinct due to cost.


The Golf Club site presents problems because walkers on the Precinct are in peril of being brained by golf balls. Interestingly, this has been addressed not by reconfiguring the golf course but by contorting the walking trails.


The 40 metre Obi Obi corridor, lacking the protection of an agreement to lease, is constantly under threat. Once planted and mature, the corridor will be a draw-card attraction of hinterland rainforest exemplifying best practice regeneration, yet it is treated, too often, like an expendable inconvenience reducible to a strip (40 m is less than the length of a swimming pool).


The MEGS Arrangement

MDSRC has retained its agreement to lease as well as its membership of PAG by auspicing the Maleny Equestrian Club (MEGS) in a plan to use the MDRC site for various equestrian pursuits (PAG Minutes, 22 August 2013 – note, this meeting was called at short notice and was held in the absence of Council, Green Hills, Barung, Lake Baroon Catchment Care, and MEGS).   


MEGS is the umbrella organisation for many equestrian clubs around Maleny as well as individual showjumpers, dressage riders, endurance riders and natural horsemen. It should, on the face of it, be well placed to seek a lease in its own right and to incorporate itself for that purpose (a simple, swift and affordable procedure). Why has this not occurred?


In its letter to members of 9 October, 2013, MDSRC claimed that PAG ‘unanimously’ approved of MEGS as a ‘suitable user group’. Green Hills recalls that it had no objection to MDSRC and MEGS holding discussions with Council about lease arrangements on condition that Green Hills be present – a condition which Council subsequently refused.


But whatever MDSRC’s claims about PAG may be, they are beside the point. Council need consult PAG only if a user group seeks a lease in its own right.


By operating under the MDSRC agreement to lease, MDSRC and MEGS avoid the uncomfortable prospect of justifying to the more sceptical members of PAG (and by inference, the larger community) that the MDSRC site is, in fact, well suited to the many pursuits MEGS expects of it; and if it is not, of making a case to Council for an alternative Precinct site.


Golf anyone?

So, is there a site which will not compromise the Obi Obi corridor, which allows affordable access for horse floats, and which has the space and ancillary resources for a fully functioning, irrigable, equestrian centre – track, show jumping, dressage, turf hacking, cross country, lunge yard, wash bays, sand roll? Not to mention a polo field, which MDSRC appears to support for its ‘event tourism’ potential despite the questionable ethics of using public land for this expensive sport (a polo player needs three mounts per tournament) and the amount of land needed if the field is to be insurable, a 27m run-off at each end and 9m at either side.


A Precinct site that suggests itself for an equestrian centre is the one presently allocated to the golf course. Or if not all of it, then a good portion.  At a time when golf is rapidly declining as a popular sport, a 9-hole course may be acceptable, if doubtful on business grounds; an 18-hole golf course is the Precinct’s elephant in the room and a white elephant in the making.


What is Council Up To?

In its letter, MDSRC says that in February 2013 a business case was presented to Council (presumably by MDSRC) ‘confirming the viability of MEGS operating under the MDSRC agreement.’ The source of the confirmation is not revealed, nor whether ‘viability’ refers to the business case or, more narrowly, to the legality of the arrangement. 


In April 2013, Councillor Jenny McKay confirmed that Council had ‘received applications from community based organisations relating to leases on the Precinct’ and that Council had considered some aspects of these requests at Council’s March meeting. She added that the Precinct Master Plan would be amended to reflect these ‘changes’ and ‘re-endorsed by Council’. (Interview with Hinterland Times, 5 April, 2013).


Minutes of the March meeting indicate that a report on Precinct leases prepared by Council’s Manager for Property and Business was considered, however neither the content of the report nor the outcome were minuted as they were classified confidential for containing ‘information relating to business for which a public discussion would be likely to prejudice the interests of the local government or someone else, or enable a person to gain a financial advantage.’


If ‘interests’ could be prejudiced and ‘financial advantages’ gained due to public knowledge about the lease arrangements, this raises many questions. It also points to a repeated theme among attendees at the public meeting Green Hills held recently to launch its campaign Maleny Expects: that the Precinct project has been notable for its lack of transparency.


The Future of PAG

In her 5 April 2013 interview, Councillor Jenny McKay commented that PAG had ‘almost completed its intent’ as a ‘combined forum of stakeholders’ and flagged ‘an alternative model’ as ‘council moves towards providing leases and partnership arrangements to stakeholders as reflected in the Master Plan.’


Green Hills suggests that stakeholders bear this in mind before citing PAG as an authority on Precinct matters. Clearly, its days are numbered.


In the course of its life, PAG has never discussed with Council or called a public meeting to solicit views on how its role could be improved, for example, by including in its ranks small business, regional tourism, demographic variety (older people, young people, people with disabilities), and such interested parties as walkers, picnickers, wildlife lovers…


When the issue was raised at the Green Hills’ public meeting, only one member from PAG was there to hear. Two members sent apologies due to being away. Every other member declined to attend.


Which surely speaks for itself.

Maleny District Green Hills Fund

A local environmental organisation

Tax deductible gift fund

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