MELVILLE council has approved ground lease negotiations with the Wave Park Group, despite efforts by a council faction to sway the decision.
The final vote on Tuesday night was 8-5 in favour of council CEO Shayne Silcox drawing up the ground lease, but a unanimously supported amendment means the final agreement still has to be approved by councillors at a closed-doors meeting.
Tempers have flared in recent months between supporters of the WPG and those determined to preserve open space in Tompkins Park, with conflicting legal opinions obtained, a social-media war waged, and WA Labor opposing the site choice and calling for a full environmental assessment.
Melville hired extra security to man the doors, and chairs were set-up outside the council room to accommodate the teeming crowd, which greeted dissenting Cr Nicholas Pazolli like a celebrity.
Cr Pazolli attempted to pass the motion put forward by electors in January which asked council to withdraw all support for the WPG, but it didn’t get off the ground.
Cr June Barton tried and failed to defer the decision, so they could digest some conflicting legal views, but was told by officers that there was no uncertainty in the matter.
The city had recently been sent a legal opinion from Lavan Legal claiming the Tompkins Park lease should have gone to tender according to the local government act, but solicitors engaged by the city identified omissions in Lavan’s letter and verbally informed councillors of this view shortly before the meeting.
Council legal services manager Louis Hitchcock said Lavan’s advice ignored a very pertinent regulation, and that he was “totally confident in the processes thus conducted”.
“I was very annoyed to get a legal opinion just before the meeting started,” Hitchcock said.
We haven’t had time to digest the information,” Cr Barton said.
But council ultimately voted to trust the city’s legal team despite Lavan threatening litigation in the supreme court.
A range of amendments by Cr Schuster were passed, including one which required a bank guarantee for remediation if WPG’s business fell through, and one which limited the duration of the WPG’s lease.
Cr Mathew Woodall proposed the amendment which required the ground lease to be approved by council before it was finalised.
Speeches were often met by cheering or jeering from the crowd, with one member of the Alfred Cove Action Group even being ejected from the chambers for using foul language.
Cr Pazolli accused the city of failing the community by not going to tender, and warned that once a development of this scale is approved, Tompkins Park will never be returned to pristine green space.
“A vote to endorse this ground lease is effectively a vote to dispose of this prime foreshore land forever,” Cr Pazolli said.
But WPG executive chairman Andrew Ross welcomed the council decision. “We believe URBNSURF Perth will represent a transformational opportunity for the city of Melville and Perth,” Mr Ross said.
by TRILOKESH CHANMUGAM