Setback for Town Beach's visionary centrepiece

A DILAPIDATED building riddled with concrete cancer and rust still stands on one of Port Macquarie’s most prime pieces of real-estate, despite a $1 million redevelopment ear-marked for the Marine Rescue building more than eight years ago.

Now, hopes for a new Marine Rescue facility in the near future have been all but dashed.

It may be years before beach-lovers can again enjoy a meal with a priceless view of the town’s most popular stretch of sand.

“What they were planning was beautiful, and the public deserved that and Port Macquarie deserved that – this is probably one of the most important pieces of land in Port Macquarie,” said Port Macquarie unit commander Peter Ellison – a strong advocate for the much-needed redevelopment of the building.

“This radio base is now really well past its used by date not only as far as an operational centre is concerned but also as a building – it leaks, it’s rusty, it’s terrible.” 

In April 2007, the last warm meal would be served at the Town Beach Kiosk when former proprietors Mike and Lyn Haslam’s lease was cut short, and they missed out on the tender for a redeveloped kiosk.

Mrs Haslam told the Port News the building was meant to be demolished a month later. But more than five years on, and the Town Beach Kiosk stills stands in its original condition.

In 2006, local restaurateur Lou Perri won the tender for a new-look eatery as part of the redevelopment.

“That’s a long time ago,” Mr Perri said. “Really the people who are losing out is the community.  I’m looking at about 200 people on the beach right now, and we don’t have the services to accommodate those people. It’s a shame really.”

He said his plans for the area would have included an approachable, bistro-type offering to provide tourists with a cafe-style meal and an opportunity to enjoy the picturesque setting at night. 

A lack of funding means any such plans seem far from achievable in the near future, and Marine Rescue is desperate to find a solution.

“We’re at our wits end to know what to do,” Mr Ellison said. 

After years of disappointments and planning failures he said volunteer morale was at an all time low: “It’s like a dog box in there, the building is literally falling apart,” he said.

“It’s got to the point now where we stand up on our hind legs and say – hey this is not good enough, there is a certain responsibility here.”

A number of hurdles have plagued the redevelopment project.

At the start of 2008, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council was in the process of responding to objections to the project’s development application (DA) made by residents in the adjacent Sandcastle residential building. 

Apart from a lack of funding the latest problem involved zoning restrictions. In 2011, the council approached Marine Rescue to make alterations to the plan and once again get the ball rolling, Mr Ellison said.

“We got very excited about the project, we got everything going, made alterations and had them settled – and then disaster struck.”

Mr Ellison said because council had not rezoned enough land the project could not go ahead. 

“The whole thing had to be redrawn and they had to start all over again with the design – all because somebody cocked-up, and that was a council mistake and nobody else’s,” Mr Ellison said.

But council general manager Tony Hayward in a statement said the initial design was commenced prior to the adoption of a Local Environmental Plan (LEP) for the area. 

“The imposition of zoning boundaries under the LEP required a minor design amendment which was completed at minimal cost,” Mr Hayward said. The completion of the LEP also allowed for the inclusion of an area for the provision of food and refreshment services which are featured in the current concept plan.”

Prior to the zoning issue, however, Mr Ellison said he was under the impression that the project was going to be given the go-ahead.

“But then, the re-zoning problem came to the fore and – after the second lot of redesigning – the whole thing lost momentum and got put on the back-burner in October.

Council said the current concept plan for a $1.8 million multi-purpose Town Beach redevelopment is currently unfunded and not listed in the council’s 2012-13 Operational Plan.

Council’s apparent almost “disregard” to the issue was a “kick in the guts”, Mr Ellison said.

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