100 attend forum on proposed closure of Engadine Leisure Centre pools for five months each year

A report recommending the closure of Engadine Leisure Centre pools for five months each year was flawed, a meeting between residents and councillors heard.

About 100 people packed the Sutherland Shire Council meeting chamber on Friday evening for a forum ahead of a decision to be made by the full council on Monday night.

Speakers said figures in the council staff report on the number of pool users couldn’t be relied upon because the turnstiles hadn’t worked for at least two years.

“People are waved through, the turnstiles don’t work, there is no one checking numbers,” one man said.

Other speakers supported the claim and also criticised the fact the numbers did not distinguish between pool and gym users.

The council was rebuked for not doing anything to promote the leisure centre and the availability of the year-round heated Olympic pool.

“It’s one of the best kept secrets in the shire,” said one resident.

“The only article I have seen on it was when the Leader reported it would be closing [for five months a year].

One man said memberships were not promoted in any way.

“You have to go in and approach [leisure centre staff],” he said.

Another resident questioned why there wasn’t a separate business plan for the leisure centre, and why the report promoted a private pool as a good alternative.

Residents told of how they and their families valued all-year swimming and aqua fitness.

“I am a bit emotional, I have only spoken at my kids’ weddings before,” said one older man.

“I find this report an absolute insult in saying no consultation is needed because of low useage and it will have low impact,” he said.

The man said he and his wife had just had each had a $25 increase in their annual seniors membership fees from July 1.

The meeting was originally planned to involve just with D ward councillors, including mayor Carmelo Pesce, Diedree Steinwall and Greg McLean.

However, five other councillors – deputy mayor Peter Scaysbrook, Kent Johns, Daniel Nicholls, Michael Forshaw and Tom Croucher – also attended.

Cr Pesce opened the meeting  saying, “I don’t want this to be council versus the community”.

“I think we can work together collaboratively and you can walk away tonight with some comfort.

“The decision has not been made yet – it will be made by the entire 15 councillors.”

Cr Pesce said the decision was “not about making money”.

“None of our assets make a profit, they are assets for the community.”

“We have 120 parks and another 10 coming.

“We are the only council in Sydney that doesn’t charge our kids to play on our parks.”

Cr Pesce said the council had to manage its budget as residents did their household budget.

Council staff told of the budget pressures through rapidly growing population and costs, particularly energy charges, rising well above the 2.3 per cent rates rise for 2018-19.

The meeting was told the operation of the three leisure centres would cost $13.5 million this year, with patron fees providing $10.8 million.

None of the councillors declared how they would vote on Monday night.

Cr Kent Johns, the de-facto leader of the Liberal councillors, revealed each division director had been directed to make efficiency savings of $500,000 this year.

“We drive a budget, we drive the staff...we are reading a report they probably didn’t want to write,” he said.

Cr Greg McLean said he had “seen the reports in the Leader, seen the photos, read the reports and the correspondence”.

“I am tremendously impressed by the number of people here tonight,” he said.

Cr Diedree Steinwall said she had read the many stories from residents about why they and their children and grandchildren used the pool.

“Personally, I understand exactly why you want that pool open...but I know from council briefings the council situation, too,” she said.

”I have been grappling with this decision and it is a difficult one.”

Cr Steinwall said she had been asking herself what the council’s priorities should be?

She had concluded services such as libraries were most valued by the community “because that’s where community comes together”

Cr Pesce said in a statement issued after the meeting, “It was clear from community feedback that the proposal has caused great concern among many residents”.

“Holding this meeting has been a good opportunity to meet with residents and for them to talk to us openly about their views,” he said. 

 “The proposal to close Engadine Leisure Centre pools during the winter months is being considered due to increasing operational costs resulting from unprecedented rises in energy prices.”

Cr Pesce said the report indicated closing the Engadine Leisure Centre pools during the low season would reduce overall operating budget by about $185,000 a year.

“Council must also consider the broader challenge of balancing service provision to best meet the needs of our whole community with long term financial sustainability when making any decision,” he said.

“We have listened to our residents, their concerns and proposed solutions, and will carefully consider all this when the proposal is discussed at the Council meeting on Monday night.”