For the past 21 years Narelle Simpson has trained swimmers at Manly’s Boy Charlton Swim Centre.
The popular swim coach has also trained elite swimmers in Australia’s Olympic, Paralympic and World championship teams. She has spent years coaching Northern Beaches lifesavers, triathletes, water polo champions and marathon swimmers, including James Pittar the first blind swimmer to cross the English Channel.
But none of that made any difference to Manly Council.
The council did not renew Ms Simpson's contract or offer her any ongoing role in the new-look swim centre, which will open its doors in July after a massive $25 M indoor facility addition. Council plans to run the Learn to Swim programs in the new facility.
The situation is so bad that dozens of Ms Simpson’s ’squaddies’ came to Manly Council's 4th April meeting to express their frustration and rage. They were there thanks to a motion by Cllr Cathy Griffin that the Council formally recognise Ms Simpson’s huge contribution to the community over the past two decades.
Even that had been bungled with the council sending a letter of thanks along with a notice telling Ms Simpson her contract would not be renewed.
“Narelle is a huge asset to this area,” swim squad member and lawyer Mark Houston told councillors.
“Her achievements as a swim coach are outstanding. If she goes a whole bunch of people will have nowhere to go to train - triathletes, open water and pool swimmers. It’s Narelle that makes the difference - they follow her. We don’t even know if she can hire lane space after the new centre opens on the first of July.”
Rows of fit-looking, young swimmers agreed, with many vowing to boycott the new swim centre unless their coach was treated with respect.
Good for Manly Councillor Candy Bingham said the Council’s plan to manage the new swim centre itself has created a nightmare for contractors.
“It’s totally unacceptable that, with less than three months to go, existing contractors don’t know if they can continue to hire lanes” she said. "No one - not even the councillors - have seen any business plans on how the new centre will operate."
And while the business plan, and the new centre manager remain elusive, there is some comfort at least for Ms Simpson and her swimmers.
A motion by Cllr Hugh Burns that all existing squads and their coaches be guaranteed at least 12 months’ access to swim lanes after July 1st, was passed.
Ms Simpson will also receive a more fitting letter of commendation and thanks.
“Operational plans for the new centre still remain a mystery with councillors being kept in the dark, despite repeated requests for information ,” Cllr Bingham said. "it's just not acceptable".
Since the 2010 Masterplan for LM Graham Reserve was adopted by Manly Council, many changes have been made. And yet, the old Plan has never been updated for public review.
,At the February Council Meeting, Clr Candy Bingham of Good For Manly, was successful in gaining agreement that the Plan be updated, but not without the usual argy-bargy.
What has become typical of Manly Council meetings, a simple suggestion that an item be updated so that the public can be keep informed, become an opportunity for the Mayor to lecture all present on the merits of the updated Plan. It was good to know that at least one Councillor knew what was happening!
The current 2010 Plan on Council's website shows tennis courts (which now aren't happening due to lack of support) and do not include newly created cricket practice areas for example.
Want to know what's happening? Here's a summary from Council staff:
Watch this space. The updated Plan will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
It's big but impressive. That's the general impression from a recent site inspection of the new Indoor Swimming Centre in Kenneth Road which is currently under construction.
The tour included vantage points inside the site, where tonnes of earth have been extracted to build three pools, and where a crèche, gym, spa, sauna and onsite parking will be located.
Principal contractors FDC Construction and Fitout Pty Ltd are building the Manly Swim Centre which was designed by architect Tompkins MDA.
The new Swim Centre, located next to LM Graham Reserve, will incorporate the existing outdoor swimming facilities. The new centre will feature:
· A 25 metre, 8 lane heated lap pool with ramp entry
· Spectator seating for 150 people
· A program pool for exercise and rehabilitation with ramp entry
· A fun children's play and leisure pool with a beach entry
· A spa pool, sauna and steam room facilities
· Administration offices
· Gymnasium, group fitness and wellbeing rooms
· A cafe and crèche
· A separate community building in LM Graham Reserve, backing onto Kenneth Road, will contain change
rooms, public toilets, a state of the art co-generation energy plant, bike storage and a bus shelter.
· On-site parking for 54 cars including 4 accessible and 2 parent with pram spaces. Parking also available on
Kenneth Road, and nearby streets.
The Centre is expected to be completed and fully operational by June 2016.
A controversial decision to build a water polo pool at Manly swim centre will stand, despite concerns the decision process sidelined locals, pool users and councillors alike.
Councillor Candy Bingham used Manly Council's first meeting of the year to ask for the polo pool to be put on hold until the council has seen a full business case on how it will be funded and operated.
The polo pool, which will replace the existing 25m outdoor pool,
was not part of the redevelopment plan for the Centre until last October, when the council agreed to "explore the possibility" of building a water polo pool.
No further discussion took place, however a Development Application (DA) to build the water polo pool was lodged just before Christmas, with submissions to the DA closing before council resumed this week.
"You can't tell me that due process has been followed here," Cr Bingham said. "I'm not against the possibility of a water polo pool at the swim centre. I'm just appalled at the contempt with which the elected councillors are treated."
The councillors weren't the only ones left out of the loop.
Several Manly residents spoke at the Council meeting asking the council to keep the 25m outdoor pool as it is. Reasons include the huge popularity of the pool with small children, who are too big for the toddler pool but still need a pool where they can always touch the bottom. Nervous adult swimmers love it too, as well as mothers who can look after several children at once with the existing arrangement of the toddler and 25m pools right next to each other.
The polo pool decision also goes against a public promise made by Manly Council General Manager Henry Wong that the existing pool would not be touched. The commitment, made to the Manly Daily in July, followed community anger at initial plans to remove the "beloved" 25m pool.
However Liberal councillors, voting as a block, signed the 25m pool's death warrant.
"I'm really disappointed," Clr Bingham said. "I'm disappointed that my Liberal colleagues are prepared to accept such a sloppy decision making process. "Now we're going ahead with a $1.5 million piece of infrastructure, even though the council never made the decision to build it, and the locals don't want it."
Who is running Manly Council? It's certainly not the elected councillors, says Councillor Candy Bingham, who has called for an Extraordinary General Meeting to address the issue.
Cr Bingham says the council has delegated extensive powers to General Manager Henry Wong. The result is that major decisions are being made with no input from councillors and sometimes without them even knowing what's going on.
The latest affront concerns a plan to include a water polo pool in addition to council's $15 million upgrade of Manly's Boy Charlton Swim Centre. Clr Bingham said she found out by chance that a development application (DA) for the water polo pool was lodged late last month. Councillors were not notified this was happening until the day before the story appeared in the Manly Daily.
“The last input councillors had on a possible polo pool was a Mayoral Minute in October to ‘explore the possibility’ of providing such a facility. Now, suddenly, a DA is lodged complete with full design drawings” she said.
"I'm not against the possibility of a water polo pool being built at the swim centre. I'm just outraged at the contempt with which the elected councillors are treated," she said.
The same approach has been taken with the long-awaited due diligence reports on the council's $80 million Manly 2015 Plan which includes a major redevelopment of the Whistler St site and a multi-million dollar car park under Manly oval.
"It appears that the General Manager is planning to submit a CapEx (Captial Expenditure) submission to the Division of Local Government this month, on this multi-million dollar project, (update15/1/13: this has now been done) although no formal Council resolution has been made that the project should proceed”, Cr Bingham said. "This is not how a democratic council should be run."
According to Clr Bingham the corresponding due diligence reports were only released last month, three days before Christmas. “Again there has been no opportunity for councillors to debate the new information and its implications for the controversial Manly 2015 Plan,” she said
The request for an Extraordinary Meeting has been lodged by Clrs Candy Bingham and Hugh Burns to bring the due diligence reports for Manly 2015 back to Council.
Breaking News: Update The $15m upgrade of Manly 'Boy Charlton' Swim Centre has now been approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel (18/12/13) who previously raised concerns about the traffic & parking plans for the Centre.
Some conditions have been applied to address the traffic and parking issues raised including the provision of a footpath on the northern side of the road. Many locals are still concerned that the road is too busy to accommodate the angle parking proposed. (See video demonstration above).
The traffic report indicated that an average of 1012 vehicles currently use Kenneth Road. Many of these are school buses and commercial vehicles, which, with the width of the road at 13m is simply not wide enough to provide safe 30 degree angle parking on the southern side and parallel parking on the northern side . We believe that the proposed provision of traffic calming and reduced speed limit to 50km will only agitate, not solve, the issue.
As part of the $16m upgrade of the Boy Charlton Pool, Manly Council voted on Monday night (15/7/13) to retain two outdoor pools, the 50 metre and 25 metre, in addition to a new indoor pool.
Research clearly showed that locals wanted to retain their outdoor pools and were not sold on the idea of a new indoor pool replacing the aging existing outdoor 25 metre pool.
Architects have now been engaged to draw up plans for the new-look swim centre which at this stage will include an indoor heated pool, gym, creche and cafe.
Council has been successful in obtaining a subsidised loan from the State Government for the project, which is expected to be self-funding. Manly Swim Centre is a very popular facility, and it is believed the upgrade of facilities will enable new users to enjoy the pool all year round.
Is it necessary and justified for Manly Council to spend $16m to effectively create an indoor 25 metre pool, a fitness centre and covered carpark on the site of the Boy Charlton Swim Centre in Balgowlah Road?
Many locals don't think so, but the Mayor has been quick to dismiss their opinions. Jean Hay was recently quoted in the Manly Daily as saying, "for anyone to knock this, get your head out of the sand."
It has now been revealed that even the Councillors hadn't been consulted nor have they voted on the proposed redevelopment, even though General Manager Henry Wong has been busy applying for loans.
It's another example of the Wong/Hay approach of overwhelming lack of community consultation in recent times that has residents outraged and frustrated. For example, we understand that no consultation took place with regular users of the pool in relation to this new proposal either. But what would they know, they only use the facility.
In contrast, Good for Manly has developed a Swimming Strategy for Manly which includes the rebuilding of the Harbour Pool, and upgrading of other major swimming locations in Manly, including the Manly Swim Centre which clearly is in need of major maintenance.
You can download our strategy here. Give us your ideas and feedback, we welcome it.
Candy Bingham, Manly Ward Councillor on Northern Beaches Council. Background in marketing, public relations and community engagement. Author of five business books. Former Lady Mayoress of Sydney. Aka Candy Tymson.