The Goulburn Workers Club is walking away from its obligations to provide a home for local hockey, says the council's Deputy Mayor.
Cr Peter Walker, a former Workers CEO, made the comment following the Club's offer for the council to lease its hockey facility for $120,000 annually.
It's a claim the Club hotly rejects. Chairman Tony Dawson said The Workers had never told the Goulburn Hockey Association to leave but regardless, it did not have an ongoing obligation to maintain the complex.
The council recently asked the Club whether it would sell the Workers Arena hockey fields. But the board ruled this out, instead inviting the council to lodge an expression of interest to lease the complex for $120,000 a year and assume responsibility for all maintenance and other costs. The terms exclude the car park and land between the hockey fields and Finlay Road, which could expand the playing area.
In a letter to the council, the Club's CEO Brett Gorham described it as a "cost effective" alternative to the construction of a new hockey centre at Carr Confoy fields, which the council has explored.
But the Deputy Mayor doesn't agree.
"I don't see how we could possibly support this arrangement because it doesn't give Goulburn Hockey any opportunity for growth or future upgrade. It leaves them with nothing," Cr Walker said.
"Is that the charter of a community club? ...They have an obligation to act in the best interests of the community and I don't see that they are by closing the door on Goulburn Hockey and making it unreasonable for them to continue."
Cr Walker said he signed a confidentiality agreement when he left the Club's employ, but was asking questions as a councillor to secure a suitable facility for the community. He argued the best solution was for the club to make a "reasonable offer" for the facility.
The Workers built the complex off Finlay Road in 1992 with the help of almost $500,000 in state and federal grants.
An agreement lured Goulburn Hockey Association from the Cookbundoon fields to play on the two synthetic surfaces. But for about the past five years, only one surface has been playable. The Club says the entire centre is too expensive to upgrade and doesn't fit with its 10-year plan.
It left the Association with game scheduling problems for its 700 to 800 registered players. In recent years it has approached the council for help. A working party, chaired by Cr Walker and including council and hockey representatives, explored options and decided to build a new $10m facility at Eastgrove's Carr Confoy fields.
I don't see how we could possibly support this arrangement because it doesn't give Goulburn Hockey any opportunity for growth or future upgrade.Deputy Mayor Peter Walker
But the Carr Confoy centre's construction is wholly reliant on grants, which are not secured. In addition, it is yet to gain DA approval. The proposal is on hold, pending talks with the Workers Club.
Mayor Bob Kirk said that, before committing to a greenfield site, the council wanted to discuss the possibility of acquiring the Club's fields.
"They've said no and prefer a lease. While we appreciate it's a lower capital outlay than buying it, it's a lesser outcome because we wouldn't own it and wouldn't be able to get government grants to improve the facility," he said.
"In 20 years' time we'd probably have the same problem so we have asked for a meeting with the board to outline the reasons we can't accept it."
Both he and Cr Walker pointed out the council would have to immediately upgrade the disused field and the second surface when it came due, a combined estimated cost of $1.2 million.
In addition, there was opportunity to develop a grass field on land between the complex and Finlay Road. Cr Walker questioned whether the community would be happy with this financial commitment for simply a lease agreement.
"Carr Confoy is a $10m spend. If we purchase and upgrade the Workers Arena, that's a $4.5m to $5m spend. ...It's a wiser move financially," he asked.
Cr Kirk said the 20-year lease offer indicated the Club didn't have firm plans for the area and he wanted to explore every option to secure a "suitable solution".
"We have a duty to the community," he said.
"The Workers Club has a large membership too and we take that into consideration. While the loss of the facility is primarily one for the Hockey Association, obviously they can't pursue a solution without council's support. We're happy to do that, as we would for other groups ... but we have to pursue all the outcomes we can afford."
Cr Kirk also said the Club had encouraged the Association to relocate from Cookbundoon "amid much expectation and excitement" but was now abandoning it.
'Give it back'
Cr Andrew Banfield, a former hockey player and current working party member, branded it "a stupid deal".
He cited the original $386,000 in state funds and $80,000 from the federal government granted to The Workers for the new complex in 1991/92.
"If you equate that to today's dollars, at a minimum, Goulburn Workers Club should be giving that back and it could cover what this is worth.
"The government gave them that money to build the centre and now they're saying they don't want to do it anymore."
Cr Banfield believed the inclusion of the amenities block and land near Finlay Road was vital for expansion.
Cr Walker argued it was essential the sport remained strong, given Goulburn and district's demonstrated record of churning out national and state players.
In 2018, the Association secured a five-year agreement, ending in 2022, to continue playing at the complex until it and the council could build a new facility.
Workers Club chairman Tony Dawson says he's had "a gutful" of what he describes as misinformation.
"We're being portrayed as the boogey men," he said.
Mr Dawson told the Post the Club had not told the Hockey Association to leave.
"We've had no sit-down conversation with council or the Association. The Association told us they wanted to find a new facility and asked for another five years. They made the call ... We could have said 'get out' but we didn't. If they wanted another two years, we'd consider that," he said.
But Mr Dawson acknowledged the Club had also refused to upgrade the second field.
"Going forward, [we] cannot maintain the hockey fields and nor should we ... It's a very expensive centre to maintain and it's not in our business plan to build a new one," he said.
Mr Dawson said the Association's $35,000 yearly rent didn't even cover lighting. Annually, the complex costs about $240,000.
The chairman described the 1991/92 agreement to relocate hockey from Cookbundoon as "one of the worst" because "endless amounts of money" were put into the new centre. He said the current board was not responsible for the decision of a past one and had new priorities. The club's 10-year business plan includes $7m for a multistorey carpark, $4m for a front gaming area upgrade and more for a motel.
"It's a lot of expenditure so how can we possibly entertain hockey?" Mr Dawson asked.
"...We support local sport but we have to support our (15,000) members too. It is not feasible for us to support a hockey centre. If we do, we may as well call ourselves the Goulburn Workers Hockey Club."
Mr Dawson said while the hockey centre land was in the business plan, there were no immediate proposals for it and the club likely wouldn't consider its future for at least 15 years. In the meantime, it was a members' asset they didn't want to sell.
"Someone may develop it in 20 years, but we won't just give it away," he said.
The CEO told the Post the Club hadn't fielded any outside interest in the land, aside from the council's.
In the Club's letter to the council, Mr Gorham wrote that in 2019, operating costs for its community and sporting activities was $617,000 "or $500,000 more than the minimum required by Club Grants". Any lease proceeds would be put back into these activities.
The council will discuss the club's offer at its October 15 meeting. The Workers Club has given it seven weeks to respond from the date of its letter, September 27.
The letter also states that the Club will "fully respect any decision by the council not to submit an expression of interest."
We care about what you think. Have your say in the form below and if you love local news don't forget to subscribe.