By Jeremy Sollars
Despite a lack of detail on the option Southern Downs councillors narrowly voted in favour of a $7.5 million upgrade of the existing Warwick Saleyards following a lengthy debate at this week’s general council meeting in Warwick on Wednesday.
Following months – if not years – of community and council discussion over the future of the saleyards the issue was finally brought to a head, but councillors were split 5 votes to 4.
The other options on the table were a brand new saleyards on a ‘greenfield’ site – costed by consultants in a council business case at $15.6 million – or a major upgrade of the existing facility estimated at $13.9 million, otherwise known as the ‘brownfield’ option.
But despite a majority of councillors voted in favour of the $7.5 million third option – a roughly ‘half-price’ upgrade – it is unclear what such a project would involve, with no specifics provided in the agenda for this week’s council meeting or previously.
Warwick and Stanthorpe Today has asked the SDRC for detail on the option.
Members of the council’s Saleyards Advisory Committee are understood to be similarly unaware of what the ‘cheaper’ version of an upgrade would entail.
In favour of the $7.5m option were Mayor Vic Pennisi, Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley and Councillors Andrew Gale, Stephen Tancred and Cameron Gow.
Against were Councillors Jo McNally, Sheryl Windle, Cynthia McDonald and Marco Gliori.
Crs Gliori and McDonald had previously made clear their position was in favour of the ‘greenfield’ option, having voted in favour of that option as members of the Saleyards Advisory Committee.
Crs McNally and Windle told this week’s meeting they believed more discussion was needed on the issue before final vote and expressed concern about the lack of specific detail given to councillors about the proposed $7.5m upgrade.
Cr McNally told the meeting she felt she and other councillors were “flying blind”, that the new option was developed by council staff “at the last moment” and declared she was “not ready to make a final decision today”, with there being “too many red flags”.
She pointed out that the Saleyards Advisory Committee had not been given the opportunity to consider the $7.5m upgrade option voted on today.
Mayor Vic Pennisi made it clear at this week’s meeting he was opposed to both the original ‘greenfield’ and ‘brownfield’ options, saying he was fearful that a new saleyards or a major upgrade could “become another WIRAC” and a “millstone around the neck of the council”.
Cr Pennisi said declining cattle numbers at Warwick were a factor, and questioned consultants’ projections of at least a 32% increase if a new saleyards were to be built, saying the figure was “an assumption” and also too low to justify spending close to $14 million or more on either the ‘greenfield’ or ‘brownfield’ option.
Crs McNally and Gliori both described the existing Saleyards as a “house of horrors” from a workplace health and safety perspective.
Those voting in favour also voted to start work on a “preliminary design”, form a “working group to guide the prioritization of specific design replacement and enhancement elements” and apply for “external funding” for the project.