State Government steps in to stall Cairns Entertainment Precinct
THE upcoming council election will act as a "referendum" on the proposed Cairns Entertainment Precinct, with the State Government saying it is up to residents to vote for the project they want built.
In a controversial last-minute intervention yesterday, the new LNP Government blocked Cairns Regional Council from awarding one of the biggest contracts of the $155 million project, saying no more major decisions should be made until after the April 28 election.
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The region’s four mayoral candidates each have a different vision for the entertainment precinct, and Local Government Minister David Crisafulli said the project will rightfully be in the hands of whoever is elected.
Mr Crisafulli sent a fax to Mayor Val Schier an hour before a critical council meeting yesterday, advising that her council did not have permission to appoint a managing contractor to the precinct so close to an election.
"Whoever forms the new council deserves the right to determine the way forward for the project, and to be locked into a course of action a few weeks out from an election is simply not fair," he said.
"The future of the entertainment precinct was a major issue in the Far North during the state election campaign and is an even greater issue during the upcoming council elections."
It is understood the integral managing contractor position, which was supposed to be awarded yesterday, would be worth more than $10 million to the company that wins the contract.
More than $6.4 million has been spent planning the proposed Wharf St precinct over the past two years, and almost $200 million of land and funding has been pledged to the project by the three levels of government.
But the current proposal could be ripped up and planning could return to square one, depending on who voters elect to the council later this month.
Cr Schier is behind the existing plans, while her rivals Margaret Cochrane, Ian Thomas and Bob Manning want a smaller and cheaper facility on different land.
Cr Schier said she was eager to talk to Mr Crisafulli to correct "bias misinformation" he might have been given about the project.
But she blasted the new minister for overstepping his powers by trying to set the agenda for the local government election campaign.
"For him to turn this election into a single-issue referendum is quite startling because there are so many other issues that people need to consider when they cast their votes," Cr Schier said.
But Mr Manning said the LNP Government was right to halt progress on the project.
"If people feel very strongly in favour of this project, they should vote for Val Schier, but if they feel strongly against the current plans as they are put forward, then they should vote for one of the other candidates," he said.
Mr Crisafulli said the Bligh government’s commitment of $57.3 million was still secure under the LNP.
And a spokesman for Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the Commonwealth was also still committed to the partnership.
But in order to meet the strict timelines set out by the Federal Government, the incoming Cairns council needs to appoint a managing contractor by the end of May or risk jeopardising the Commonwealth’s $40 million of funding.
Project manager Linda Cardew said the State Government’s decision to stall progress until after the election could hinder the council’s ability to meet its deadlines.
"It’s got serious impact – not just on the next milestone in May, but a domino effect on all of the milestones that we need to meet to secure our funding," she said.
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Stalled: Local Government Minister David Crisafulli has stepped in to stop Cairns Regional Council appointing a managing contractor for its entertainment precinct project.