Links losses: councillor speaks out over golf debt

More than a decade of frustration over the cost to ratepayers of The Links, Shell Cove golf course spilled onto the floor of Shellharbour City Council during a heated debate on Tuesday night.

Councillors voted 4-3 to write off a debt of $890,000 "owed to ratepayers" by the golf course after the sale of six residential lots at the course failed to cover the deficit.

The decision came as it was revealed the golf course's operating loss in the 2012-13 financial year had blown out beyond half a million dollars.

This loss of $510,000 was on top of previously reported operational losses of $411,000 (2008-09), $383,907 (2009-10), $368,200 (2010-11) and $346,782 (2011-12).

Cr Peter Moran, who described the $890,000 as a "narrow snapshot of the millions sunk into the facility" unsuccessfully moved a series of motions including one relating to former council general manager Brian Weir and the late mayor David Hamilton.

"They constantly gave public assurances that this golf course would never cost ratepayers a cent," Cr Moran said.

"These assurances never looked like coming true ... and these losses are going to continue well into the future."

Cr Moran's motion that the golf course cease operations once losses reach a figure of $346,000 in any financial year was also defeated.

"It sounds drastic but this is a drastic situation," he said.

However Cr Moran was successful in his motion that called for a report on the costs to council associated with the golf course since 2003, thanks to support from Labor councillor John Murray.

Cr David Boyle spoke against the move, saying the report was unnecessary as the council had to focus on the future, not what happened more than 10 years ago.

"It is hard to put a figure on how much value the course has played in the sale of land at Shell Cove and how much it contributes to tourism," Cr Boyle said.

Later in the meeting the council moved behind closed doors to discuss potential options for the course.

The council resolved to "reaffirm its commitment to the retention and operation of a golf course facility" and "recognises the long-term complementary value of this asset to the Shell Cove project, to the tourist industry and to the city as a whole".

The council will retain consultants CBRE "to test the national and international market by a tender invitation for a long-term lease of the whole Links Hotel and golf course facility", but at the same time prepare "an alternate plan" to enable council to successfully manage the facility for the future.

The alternate plan would include recommendations on a suitable business corporate governance structure, a business plan, the establishment of a "capital backing fund" to underwrite future operations and other relevant matters to promote the success of the enterprise.

The results will be reported back to the council in July.

Business panel named to advise council

Trish McClure, an economist with 30 years of experience in delivery and monitoring infrastructure for the state government.

Garry Pinch, a local chartered accountant with wide business and advisory experience in the Illawarra.

John Murray, a Shellharbour City Councillor appointed for his experience in running state enterprise activities.

Peter Roberts, a former Qantas senior executive and airline company  chief executive.

David Cosgrove, joint owner and operator of a number of automotive dealerships including Wilson’s Holden and Albion Park Mitsubishi. 

FIVE people have been appointed to Shellharbour City Council’s new Business Unit Advisory Board, which will provide ‘‘an outside commercial perspective’’ on the business activities of the council, including assets such as the Illawarra Regional Airport and The Links, Shell Cove golf course.

The board members are Trish McClure, Garry Pinch, Peter Roberts, David Cosgrove and current Shellharbour councillor John Murray.

‘‘Each board member brings a unique set of skills that will help to identify opportunities to increase the potential of [the council’s] business enterprises,’’  general manager Michael Willis said. ‘‘It is important that businesses operated by council are managed in a business-like manner and have every opportunity for success as a commercial entity.

‘‘The board will have a particular focus on those activities that rely on significant commercial income from outside the organisation.’’

The priority of the new board will be to prepare a business plan for the airport and review the airport’s long-awaited draft master plan.

The master plan, which will guide the development of the airport over the next 15 to 20 years, has estimated costs in excess of $125million across its various projects and stages.

Mr Willis said considering the large sums of money proposed, it was important that a business plan for the airport be prepared first to guide the master plan’s development and implementation.

‘‘It is critical that we understand all the implications of developing this regional asset and what return the community would receive from such a significant investment,’’ he said.

The board will report back to the general manager with information provided to the community through council reports on a regular basis.

‘‘The selection panel was very pleased with the calibre and experience of those appointed,’’ Mr Willis said.  

Advisory Board Members 

• Trish McClure, an economist with 30 years of experience in delivery and monitoring infrastructure for the state government.

• Garry Pinch, a local chartered accountant with wide business and advisory experience in the Illawarra.

• John Murray, a Shellharbour City Councillor appointed for his experience in running state enterprise activities.

• Peter Roberts, a former Qantas senior executive and airline company  chief executive.

• David Cosgrove, joint owner and operator of a number of automotive dealerships including Wilson’s Holden and Albion Park Mitsubishi. 

- ALEX ARNOLD

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