By Jess Baker
Southern Downs Regional Council will apply for $4.5 million in federal funding which, if successful, would cover more than half of the cost of a proposed renovation of the Warwick Saleyards.
After some discussion at the council’s 11 August ordinary meeting, all councillors present voted to submit a funding application under the federal government’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants program.
They also agreed the council would contribute a minimum of $3 million towards the project.
Councillors Cynthia McDonald and Andrew Gale were absent from the meeting due to illness, according to Mayor Vic Pennisi.
A report tabled at the meeting stated the proposed redevelopment works at the saleyards would include cattle pens, amenities, canteen and administration office, as well as car and truck parking and internal roadworks.
“The improvement to the Saleyards facility will assist (the) council in attracting more business to the Saleyards, thus driving regional economic growth and assisting with the creation of new jobs through construction and ongoing operations,” read the report.
Chief executive officer Dave Burges said a preliminary design for the redevelopment would be completed by the end of the month, in time for the application to be submitted to the federal government.
At that time, he said the Saleyards Advisory Committee will be consulted and the community informed.
Mayor Pennisi said the community would be engaged in a way yet to be determined by the council.
“I think there’d be an expectation from some of the councillors that it goes to the community and we’ll make that decision as we go forward,” he said.
Southern Downs councillors voted narrowly in favour of a $7.5 million upgrade of the saleyards on Wednesday 24 February, rejecting other more expensive options for the site including a “full redevelopment” of the existing site and building an entirely new facility on a new site.
The rejected options, known as the ‘brownfield’ and ‘greenfield’ options, were costed by consultants in a council business case at $13.9 million and $15.6 million respectively.
Councillors Vic Pennisi, Ross Bartley, Andrew Gale, Stephen Tancred and Cameron Gow voted in favour of the $7.5 million option at the time, while councillors Jo McNally, Sheryl Windle, Cynthia McDonald and Marco Gliori voted against.
Cr Pennisi said the $7.5 million option was attractive to the council as it was affordable.
“A new ‘greenfield’ site was cost-prohibitive for this council and the experts that have given their reports back to (the) council did identify the ability to renovate what we’ve got in its existing location,” Cr Pennisi said.
Mr Burges said that a “full renewal” of the existing facility would cost between $15 and $20 million, but the council had only decided to proceed with completing the “highest priority works” – ‘stage one’ of the full project – which was estimated to cost around $7.5 million.
“That resolves most of all the big issues; the workplace health and safety, the traffic management … it resolves the key issues that we’ve identified,” Mr Burges said.
“There may or may not be future stages, depending on council on the day.
“This project will address what needs to be addressed. It just may not have some of the ‘nice to haves’.”
Also during the 11 August meeting, councillors voted to apply for $230,000 in the same submission for shade structures at Weeroona Park in Stanthorpe.
If granted, the funding would be complemented by a $25,000 contribution from SDRC.
“People are always looking for shade when attending events in Weeroona Park. If we are also successful in obtaining approval for this second, albeit smaller infrastructure project, it will greatly enhance the community’s experience of the park and add to the overall enjoyment of events,” Cr Pennisi said.
Projects will only be funded under the $276 million Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants program if they aid recovery and resilience in the Southern Downs Regional Council area either socially, economically, or environmentally.
Grants are intended for local government areas affected by the 2019-20 bushfires.
“(The Warwick Saleyards) is a piece of infrastructure that services the whole region. Every producer in Southern Downs has got the capacity, or got the ability, to use that facility,“ Cr Pennisi said.
“And realistically, when we had the bushfires there was some serious damage done here on the eastern side of our region here.“
He said redeveloping the Warwick Saleyards was “critically important“ and should be prioritised when funding opportunities like the Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants program arise.