Most local council decisions do not attract a lot of attention.
This one should.
The Mornington Peninsular Shire Council has made the decision to increase the rent of the Hasting Club from $4,000 p.a to $42,200p.a.
The Hastings Club goes back to 1887 when the Hastings Cricket Club was formed, with the Hastings Football Club formed in 1891. In 1967 the Hastings Cricket & Football Social Club Co-Operative Ltd was formed by 120 people.
Like most sporting clubs in Australia, the Hastings Club’s land is owned by the Council.
The Club argue that the rent increase will end their plans to renovate their 1970’s venue.
The problems facing Mornington Peninsular Shire and the Hastings Club deserve more attention than they get.
Local councils have an infrastructure crisis that has not been acknowledged at a national level.
According to the Australian Local Government Association, local councils across the country manage infrastructure with a gross replacement of $438 billion. According to ALGA, 11% or $47 billion of assets are in poor or very poor condition whilst a further 7% or $31 billion has poor functions and requires upgrading.
Local councils have been subject to constraints on their ability to raise income, either through rate capping measures or the freezing of indexation of Financial Assistance grants, which ALGA estimates permanently reduces funding to councils by more than $300 million per annum.
Why isn’t the local government infrastructure crisis on the national agenda?
Whilst the Federal Government makes plans for new infrastructure, with the estimated value of Infrastructure Australia Priority List projects that have been through a full business case at $60 billion, there is no plan to address the community infrastructure deficit.
It is likely that community facilities will bear the brunt of this crisis. They are already are. The urgent priorities of fixing roads, bridges and waterways will always have priority over community assets.
We only have to look at our own communities to see run down club houses, under-utilised scout halls and aging swimming pool facilities.
Every so often a community will receive a grant to build a new facility or patch up an old one, but with pressure on government budgets expected to only increase as our population ages we need to find alternative solutions.
Increasing rents on communities is however not the answer. It will only deprive community sporting clubs of a source of income, and permanently deny any improvement in assets.
There may be a solution – which is to develop community bonds as an alternative finance stream for communities.
Community bonds, if structured correctly, can be investable for superannuation funds, and can support the redevelopment of club facilities.
But this cannot happen if clubs have to bear the burden of commercial rents.
We need to resolve this community infrastructure crisis. If Councils are not able to continue to be the guardians of community land then we may need to find alternative structures that ensure that clubs are able to continue to service their communities as they have for the last 130 years.
The one thing we can’t do is ignore the plight of the Hastings Club. Because this is likely to be the plight of all community clubs in the future unless we find a way to resolve the community infrastructure deficit.