Hepburn Shire Council is consulting the community on whether it supports the sale of the Rex. This is a requirement set out in section 114 2 (b) of the Victorian Local Government Act before Council land can be sold.
There has been some speculation that Council is back tracking on its November decision to abandon the community hub at the Rex. But council has made it clear that it remains committed to its decision.
In response to the Wombat Post, Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie said
“The engagement launched yesterday refers to community engagement in relation the sale. The November motion of Council cannot be rescinded because it has been enacted on in accordance with the Local Government Act. The motion ceased the Hepburn Hub project (Council offices, library, cinema and co-working space).”
“Council in November asked the CEO to undertake a process to sell the asset (The Rex building), and as part of this process community consultation on the sale needs to occur.”
“This is not a back flip on any previous decision, but a requirement of the Local Government Act to undertake community engagement given the proposed sale.”
“Council will consider, following the community consultation, whether to proceed with the sale of the building or not at the June or July meeting. If Council decided not to proceed with the sale, it would need to determine a future use of the building, noting it will not be the Hepburn Hub.”
The documentation for the consultation makes it clear that revisiting the hub at the Rex is “outside the scope of this engagement process.”
Effectively Council is holding a consultation on alternative uses for the Rex apart from those the Community has wanted for the past 10 years, including: a library, auditorium, public toilets, customer service centre, digital co working spaces and offices for staff.
A minimal consultation process has been advertised to meet the requirements of the Act. It includes only an online survey, a self organised group consultation process and submissions.
Whether the views gathered through the consultation process will be representative of the wider community is unclear. The survey is unlikely to generate representative sample and the group consultations are self selected and self led.
Neither Councillors nor Council Officers will meet formally with members of the community through the consultation process. There are no pop up forums or any other forms of Council organised face to face consultation with the community.
It is highly likely that there will be a strong negative response to the Councils decision to sell the Rex through the survey and self nominated group responses. Views like those of the Rethink the Rex group are already well known. But it is unlikely that financially viable proposals for the alternative use of the Rex will be found.
In its November decision to abandon the Rex, Council moved that it:
“Request the Chief Executive Officer prepare a scope to undertake a planning project that will review possible solutions of staffing accommodation and community facilities that were to be included in the Hepburn Hub.”
Given the strong criticisms of the management of the community hub process, it is surprising that Council has not yet taken steps to establish a systematic and rigorous consultation process on how community facilities including a library, auditorium and customer service centre might best be developed for Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, despite its direction to the Chief Executive Officer.