Never one to let a sleeping dog lie, Nationals MLC Wes Fang has given Wagga Wagga City Council another prod over the renewed call to recoup money from the disputed Ambo deal.
In a backhanded show of support for Labor councillor Dan Hayes, Mr Fang said he was “all in” on moves to alert the new Minns Government to WWCC’s quest for a refund.
“I think that it’s very appropriate that Dan Hayes raises this issue now that we have a Labor State Government and seeks to have it addressed by them,” he said, reflecting on an acrimonious 12 months in which he accused Mayor Dallas Tout of misleading the community and described Wagga City Council’s behaviour in the matter as “childish”.
A little over a month ago Mr Fang shrugged off calls for an apology over the name-calling and doubled down on his assertions that the council got a good deal when it agreed to purchase the decommissioned ambulance station for half its appraised value.
The deal turned sour when the council learned of other assets that had been returned to NSW communities for the nominal fee of $1.
“I am happy to join him in the call for a refund, provided that this isn’t a one-off as a favour for Dan Hayes and that the Labor Government looks at all the assets that were sold by the previous NSW government and looks to refund all the councils or community groups that may have purchased assets from us for more than $1,” he said.
“We were clear that the money that was paid by council for the ambulance station was being reinvested into health infrastructure.
“Given that, I assume, the money to pay them back is going to have to come out of the healthcare infrastructure budget, where is it coming from and what services are being cut in order to do that?”
Cr Hayes said he did not want to be drawn into a tit-for-tat argument at the expense of Wagga’s best interests.
“We will welcome anyone supporting this fight, but Wes Fang has absolutely no credibility in this argument and would probably diminish council’s efficacy in this,” he said.
“Back when we learned that Armidale got the courthouse for $1, we started to put questions to the premier and we just got the runaround and non-answers.
“So Wes can throw mud, that’s what he does, but what we need is people who are going to advocate for this in a way that is going to be successful and meaningful.”
In terms of the progress of the Ambo Arts Hub project itself, Tim Kurylowicz from Eastern Riverina Arts says they are getting to the pointy end.
“We signed our licence agreement with council on Friday and our intention is to get in there and get cracking,” he said.
“We intend to be in that venue within the fortnight and we are talking now with our tenants about timelines to get them in the space as well.”
He said that their agreement with the council was at a full commercial rate, something made necessary by the purchase price and redevelopment costs.
“We’re essentially committed to running a community facility that will essentially break even, and if there was a way to reduce our outgoings, that would mean we could deliver more for the community for the same price.”
But for the time being, Mr Kurylowicz is happy to leave the wrangling to state and local governments and is looking forward to creating something new in the heart of Wagga.
“Our vision is that this becomes the impetus for a generation of new creative work and new creative businesses,” he explained.
“We know we have incredible creative talent in this city and this is about creating a dedicated space and supporting the kind of networking and professional connections to ensure that artists and creative businesses are making an absolute world standard product in Wagga and getting recognised for it.”