Public shut out of Wollongong councillor's debate

Wollongong councillors held a closed council session on Monday night, shutting out the public from part of their meeting for the third time since they were elected in 2011.

The topic was the Flinders Street master plan, which needed to be discussed behind closed doors because "the report contains information that would, if disclosed, confer a commercial advantage on a person with whom council is conducting (or proposes to conduct) business".

Councillors have held closed sessions twice before, the first time in March 2012 when considering a court matter. The second was in August 2012, when councillors voted to enter into an option for the sale of the land between Flinders, Keira and Campbell streets to Malaysian-Australian consortium, Gateway Wollongong.

In June 2013, Gateway released a master plan which would allow them to build a complex of mixed-use buildings. The developers then submitted a proposal to change the site to a mixed-use zone and requested an increase to the building height and floor-space ratios. This proposal is due to be considered by the Joint Regional Planning Panel.

Before the debate on Monday, councillors voted on whether to close the session. Independent councillors Greg Petty and Vicki Curran voted against this motion, with Cr Petty saying the council was putting the interests of the community behind one party.

Cr Curran said she was disappointed the master plan business paper was so broad because a smaller scope would have allowed councillors to conduct themselves with "the transparency that our community has a right to expect".

However, Labor councillor David Brown said the council needed to be closed as the matter was about contracts and commercial arrangements.

"I subscribe to the view we should go into confidential council as little as possible, and I have voted against it in the past, but in this case, I can see no other option," he said.

After the closed debate, councillors resolved "to delegate to the general manager, in consultation with the Lord Mayor, to continue discussions with the Flinders Street proponent concerning the contract and any other approaches from the proponent".

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