Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Smell lingers over Belvoir Street Theatre Affair

A consistent political theme that Clover Moore hammers is that 'independents are not like the other major party politicians' and that 'independents do not engage in back room deals'. It was therefore disappointing to learn of the events surrounding the Belvoir Street Theatre development application that were exposed at Council this week and reported in the Sydney Morning Herald today.
The Belvoir Street Theatre affair has all the hallmarks of a grubby political deal. The actions (outlined by SMH article below) may contravene the ICAC recommendations contained in the 'Taking the devil out of development' report. The ICAC inquiry was a result of caucusing and corruption at Rockdale Council and recommended Councillors not caucus on any active DA's.

The allegation that the Lord Mayor's office intervened behind the scenes to have a newsletter pulped because it criticised Clover Moore raises concerns about the extent of bullying and coersion that appears to emanate form the Lord Mayor's office.

These serious concerns gave rise to Council passing a resolution at Monday night's meeting concerning the Lord Mayor's dealings with the Belvoir Street Theatre. Council has required Moore to provide a written report outlining all her dealings with the theatre for the next meeting scheduled for February. Only then can Council consider whether an independent inquiry into this affair is needed to clear the air.

Moore accused of $300,000 theatre deal

By Bonnie MalkinDecember 14, 2005

THE Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, made a secret deal with the operators of the Belvoir Street Theatre this year, promising them $300,000 in special grants as compensation for refusing to approve their renovation plans, opposition councillors have alleged.
The Greens councillor, Chris Harris, who recently declared his intention to stand against Cr Moore at the next state election, said the Lord Mayor offered Belvoir St the money because she feared members of her team would vote to approve the application if it appeared before the council again.
"Two of her team made it pretty well known that if that [development application] came back to council they would vote for it," he said.
Cr Moore yesterday strenuously denied all the allegations, labelling them as "mischief making" by one Belvoir employee who had worked on the development application and was angry that it had been withdrawn.
At a council meeting on Monday night an alliance of Liberal, Labor and Greens councillors accused Cr Moore of holding private meetings with the theatre and promising five grants of $60,000. They said the money was offered to cover the cost of drawing up plans to extend the theatre that Cr Moore said would not be approved.
The Lord Mayor later told the theatre to reprint a newsletter that blamed her for thwarting development plans or she would scrap the deal, the councillors said.
Cr Moore said she met the theatre operators but had not promised anything. "I said Belvoir was an important institution and I would be supportive of a request from them but I couldn't speak for the rest of the council."
Cr Moore said she had asked the theatre to change a factual error in one newsletter but did not know it had been reprinted.
"The office of the Lord Mayor raised concerns about accuracy and suggested corrections to the text Â… the final newsletter did not follow the suggestions made."
Cr Moore has agreed to give councillors a report outlining all her meetings with representatives of Belvoir St. The Liberal councillor Shayne Mallard told the meeting that a member of Belvoir St's management had told him, Cr Tony Pooley and Cr Chris Harris that Cr Moore had offered the theatre a grant to cover the cost of its aborted development application - estimated to be $300,000.
Cr Mallard said staff from the Lord Mayor's office threatened to withhold the money if the theatre did not pulp and reprint a newsletter that criticised her.
The allegations arose after the Labor deputy mayor, Verity Firth, asked the council to investigate giving a $300,000 grant to the theatre and the independent councillor Marcelle Hoff moved a motion to delay it.
In October last year Belvoir St submitted an application to refurbish the theatre and add two floors. Council staff recommended it be approved but Cr Moore and her team deferred their decision because of concerns of overshadowing and density.
In September the council approved a new plan by Belvoir St to refurbish the theatre building without adding two floors.
The theatre's general manager, Rachel Healy, had no comment.


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