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HomeLatest NewsOut to sea: frustration grows as Manly Life Saving Club rebuild project...

Out to sea: frustration grows as Manly Life Saving Club rebuild project goes on… and on

The upgrade of the Manly Life Saving Club (MLSC) has been in the pipeline for the best part of 20 years.

In a complicated chicken-and-egg situation, the delay has been a combination of differing stakeholder feedback on the footprint and use of the new Club; the Council being reluctant to submit a Development Application (DA) without finding a common ground for all stakeholders; the Council not being able to submit a DA without securing funding for the development; and Federal and State government bodies unwilling to approve funding without a DA…

Manly Observer has spoken to all parties involved to find out what’s going on.

BACKGROUND

Twelve years ago, Manly LSC received a much needed upgrade to its facility.

In May 2012, Good for Manly reported: “It’s been a long time coming, but thanks to a grant from the NSW Government and the work of our local member, Mike Baird, Manly Life Saving Club is finally able to start the much-needed upgrade of their facilities.”

Yep… that was way back when Mike Baird was our local State Member.

In 2018, Council initiated the project subject to a “robust community consultation process” with a dedicated working group.

In March 2019, Tony Abbott, as Federal Member for Warringah, pledged $5 million towards the development of Manly LSC and publicly stated that those funds were “absolutely locked in”. A business case was approved by Council in June 2020.

In 2021, an Expression of Interest (EOI) was issued, calling for suitably experienced and qualified design consultancy firms to help Council determine the location and scale of the Manly LSC building and surrounding community facilities, with tender applications closing in July of that year.

In August 2022, Council appointed Terroir to develop concept plans for a new Manly SLC and public amenities.

Manly Surf Life Saving Club, South Steyne: in need of replacement. Photo: Alec Smart

As reported in Manly Observer on October 11, 2022, Terroir was appointed due to demonstrated experience of the practice, including the delivery of projects in significant locations and coastal places, in particular, and for their ability to work with a range of stakeholders to find the best outcome for all.

Terroir further liaised with those stakeholders, then developed a concept design that looked like this, back in 2023.

THe separate toilet block plan appears to have since been dismissed after community engagement.  You read about that here. 

The current (but not final) concepts look like this:

Concept designs as published in a report from Terroir for Northern Beaches Council dated May 2024.
Concept designs as published in a report from Terroir for Northern Beaches Council dated May 2024.

The current club ground floor footprint is 452 sq metres, plus 159 sq metres for outdoor craft storage, totalling 611 sq metres. Although not yet published on the Council’s Your Say page, the proposed new footprint is closer to 667 sq metres with the outdoor craft storage removed. The proposed first and then second floors also adds to the height and bulk but there appears to be no additional space offered for the public amenities,  summarises the Manly Community Forum newsletter.

Fast Forward to 2024

“We are still working through the final concept design, consulting with stakeholders and trying to strike the right balance between the needs of the club, local residents, beach users, visitors and the broader community,” Mayor Sue Heins said when Manly Observer asked Council why the project was taking so long.

“We look forward to further consultation with the community during the DA stage.

“Manly Life Saving Club is an incredibly important facility – an icon of the Northern Beaches, a home for the growing volunteer lifesaving club and Council lifeguards, public amenities for millions of tourists – and all within a very constrained site. We understand there is some frustration with the timeline, however, we won’t be able to confirm this until the total funding to complete the full project has been secured.

“The project is expected to cost between $15-20 million, with Council and the federal government committed to providing funding of $5 million each and the state government providing $1 million. Despite the current project funding shortfall, Council continues to progress this important and highly complex project.”

In Council’s Budget for 2024-25, tabled at the May meeting, $4 million was allocated for the Manly LSC.

Historic surf carnival at Manly Beach with spectators sat on roof of Manly SLSC. Photo NB Council

In a Catch 22 situation, with the funding shortfall an issue, it seems the delay in Council submitting a DA is affecting further fundraising efforts.

On 17 May, the NSW Office of Sport advised Manly LSC that it had been unsuccessful in applying for a $1 million grant (to be matched by Club funds already in the bank) as part of the NSW Surf Life Saving Facilities Grant program. As reported in the Club’s most recent newsletter, it’s the Club’s understanding that Council’s delays regarding the DA were a factor in the rejection. The Club has been encouraged to reapply for the Grant in late 2024.

In better news, with support from local Federal Member, Zali Steggall, the $5 million Commonwealth funding commitment, due to expire this month, has now been formally extended until 30 June 2026.

Ms Steggall explained that she continues to fly the flag for this project, which often has her at loggerheads with Minister for Infrastructure, Catherine King, who insists timelines must be met and a firm DA with costings must be in place before the Club can apply for any other available grants.

Zali Steggall and Sue Crick at the relaunch of the Manly Freshwater World Surfing Reserve in March. Photo: Alec Smart

Ms Steggall shares the frustration surrounding what she sees as a project that’s “vital to the local community”. But she sees the ability to meet the current shortfall in funding as a chicken-and-egg situation.

“I’ll keep fighting for this,” Ms Steggall said.

“But Government funding is directed towards projects that have DA approval. Every time I put forward Manly LSC as a worthy recipient, I am met with the statement that there’s a long line of applicants ahead of us who already have DA approval.

“I also believe that, given the revenue from tourism that Manly generates for NSW, the State Government should re-think its current commitment and consider funding that’s commensurate with that pledged by Federal Government and Council.”

The Club itself continues to look at other sources of funding.

It’s now urging the community to pledge further funds for the rebuild, looking to raise $5 million from its members’ friends, family and employers, as well as community-minded corporations.

But the delay in submitting a DA is not just a matter of finance.

Victoria O’Halloran, President, Manly Surf Life Saving, outside the Manly LSC building on South Steyne. Photo: Alec Smart

The Stakeholders

While all parties approached by Manly Observer agree that they support the iconic Manly SLC getting a much-needed upgrade, there remain differences among stakeholders that are also contributing factors to the delay of this project.

Cathy Griffin, Chairperson of the Manly Community Forum, was adamant that the community fully support a new club.

“As long as it sits within the existing footprint. Right now, nobody is happy,” she explained.

“Not club members, local residents, members of the Bold and Beautiful. Council has annoyed everybody! It’s like the old proverb, ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee’. Well, they’ve come up with a fantastic camel in this instance.

An image mock up of the new view of the club from Ashburner Street in Manly published in the Manly Community Forum newsletter.

“Members of the public are confused. They think the DA is the Club’s responsibility, when it’s Council’s. There doesn’t seem to have been any parameters set about space limits, the new public amenities, the new café planned as part of the redevelopment. There’s just no clarity for any of the stakeholders. It feels like Council hasn’t listened to any of us.

“Our main objection is the increasing footprint of the building. The incursion into public space. The club is saying they need more storage room, but don’t store stuff in what is now public space.”

“‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee’. Well, they’ve come up with a fantastic camel in this instance.”

As reported in the current issue of Councillor Candy Bingham’s newsletter, ‘Good for Manly’, a new resident’s group, South Steyne Heritage Action Group, has also emerged to challenge the proposed plans for Manly LSC. These residents echo the sentiments voiced above by Cathy Griffin, claiming reports that indicate the proposed Manly SLC would expand in site coverage by around 50 per cent.

Susan Pettifer, co-chair of the South Steyne Heritage Action Group confirmed the group’s support for the redevelopment of the club. However they are strongly opposed to the “loss of public land on the heritage foreshore.”
She was particularly critical of the Council’s community engagement process.  “We feel as if the Council’s process is starting to divide the community, forcing people to take sides, and we don’t want this”. “We believe that a smarter design within the club’s existing footprint would meet everyone’s needs”.

Council said it is constraining the footprint “as much as possible” is likely the club will be  increased by approximately 10 per cent in size to ensure it is fit for purpose and incorporates accessible public amenities. Council further states that there have been three rounds of consultation in 2019, 2022 and 2023. A needs analysis was a critical first part of this consultation. And the last round of consultation attracted over 600 responses.

The red shows the existing footprint and the blue shows the proposed new footprint of the club.

Council has also established a project Community Working Group with representatives from local residents, local surfers, local business, local youth, beach foreshore users, environmental groups, Manly SLC, Surf Life Saving Northern Beaches, Bold and Beautiful swimmers and the Manly Business Chamber.

“This is a very challenging site, with many physical and environmental constraints and a number of competing uses,” Council referenced.

“It has several busy pinch points, needs to accommodate the growing needs of the club, kiosk/café, Council Lifeguards, storage, first aid, rescue equipment and accessible public amenities. And in addition, the Sydney Water sewer easement requires the building’s location to be shifted away from this easement along the cliff face.”

Manly Surf Life Saving Club, South Steyne. Photo: Alec Smart

Ms Steggall is concerned that what she sees as misinformation concerning the project could cause further delays, in turn, affecting funds already secured as well as future funding.

“I understand that the Club, the Community and Council all have their wish lists, but at the moment, the inactivity this is causing is counterproductive,” she said.

“The facts are undeniable. Since the Club was first built back in the 1970s or ‘80s, there’s been a huge increase in membership, particularly in the number of female members. There has to be some increase in the footprint of a new club to match this growth.

“The contribution of Manly LSC volunteers to the community is huge. They do an amazing job to keep Manly Beach safe and the local community should recognise the value they provide. The building is in a state of disrepair, there’s no disability access and the public amenities fall way short of being able to serve the vast number of residents and visitors to Manly each year. There must be compromise and soon. Council needs to get its skates on and make this project happen.”

What does the Club itself have to say?

When interviewed, Manly LSC President, Victoria O’Halloran, told Manly Observer that she’d been involved with the project for the last seven to eight years.

“It’s really disheartening that we’re not further advanced after so much time has elapsed,” she said.

“It’s really disheartening that we’re not further advanced after so much time has elapsed”

“I’m also disappointed that some people in our community don’t seem to value what the Manly LSC offers. Our members are volunteers who undergo extensive training, both physical and online, and have to maintain compliance standards in terms of fitness and competency. We serve the community, and we save lives. And all we’re after is for our club, that’s been here for 115 years, to have a building that’s not falling down around our ears, is fit for purpose for Council Lifeguards, our volunteer members and visitors, and makes Manly proud.

“We want everyone on board with this project and certainly don’t want our neighbours’ views impacted. We have to improve several pinch points around the site and the building’s location requires it to be shifted away from the Sydney Water sewer easement behind the Club.

“We absolutely won’t be engaging in any of the negativity that’s floating around. The ball is now in Council’s court and the DA must be finalised so we can get on with our fundraising efforts and be eligible for grants like that on offer from SLSC NSW. Council has told us the DA should be submitted in the second half of this year, but it then has to be reviewed by the independent organisation, Sydney North Local Planning, so it could take another year before it’s approved.

“In the meantime, the Club is literally in decay. Our membership has far outgrown the facility and we have little room to store our lifesaving equipment. Money needs to be spent on the building now. There are sections of the club that can’t even be locked! We need Council to put an interim maintenance plan in place, so staff, members and visitors can at least feel safe.”

“In the meantime, the Club is literally in decay. Our membership has far outgrown the facility and we have little room to store our lifesaving equipment. Money needs to be spent on the building now.”

Council’s response was that its facilities team continues to work with the Club on any urgent maintenance items.

In the meantime, some club members have privately echoed Victoria’s thoughts, one saying:

“The growing feeling among members is that this rebuild is just never going to happen. It’s been dragging on forever. ”

Chris Bell, Manly LSC Chair of the Building Committee, commented in the Club’s most recent newsletter: “We are being pressured to reduce the footprint of the rebuild, including craft storage. The Board and Building Committee are working closely with the architects and Council to make suitable adjustments. However, we need to be realistic with the current available funding along with site constraints, there will be compromises on design, particularly regarding craft storage. It is essential that craft only be stored inside the club and that we engage constructively with our neighbours and community about the project”.

Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad
Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad. Image via Instagram

And then there’s the Bold & Beautiful, a group that started with two ladies in 2008 and has now grown to an ad hoc membership of over 3,200 keen swimmers. On any given day, all year round, at least 300 swimmers set off at 7am in their hot pink Bold & Beautiful swim caps, to swim the 1.5 km return distance from Manly to Shelly Beach and back.

When asked her thoughts on the drama surrounding the rebuild of Manly LSC, another long time B&B member said:

“It’s embarrassing, really. Manly has been voted the best beach in Australia and one of the best in the world, and yet we have amenities that are well below par. There’s nowhere for us to leave our gear while we’re swimming, so bags are strewn everywhere, and the amenities provide only four very dated showers and toilets for both ladies and men. Most of us choose to avoid using these, instead, shivering under the cleaner outdoor showers.

“When you visit other popular swim spots like Balmoral and even Newcastle, they offer far superior facilities with hot showers guaranteed. We’d love to see a new club with upgraded public amenities and just don’t understand why it’s taking so long.”

On the flip side there is vocal local resident Paul Nash, who contacts Manly Observer on the larger proposed footprint regularly.

“As a local resident, clubbie, and bold and beautiful daily swimmer, I was excited with the prospect of a facilities reno as were my friends and family Manly club members… It is seemingly now a widely held local view from those who are paying attention to the plans that the Manly SLSC proposal has come off the rails… it has morphed into an unnecessary over development, with loss of irreplaceable public beachfront land.”

Perhaps local State Member, James Griffin’s thoughts provide a fitting last word on the issue. He told Manly Observer that Council should just “cut through the red tape and get it done”.

“Council did such a great job refurbishing Long Reef and Mona Vale Surf Life Saving Clubs. So why can’t the same happen here in Manly? It’s pretty rare that any project has more than $10 million in the bank, ready to go,” he said.

“My understanding is that the Long Reef project cost about $8 million and Mona Vale $10 million. The Manly SLC project has $11 million already raised. Yes, the final design must be sympathetic to neighbours, but for everyone’s sake, let’s just get this project done!”

More information can be found on Council’s website.

 

Article written by Dave Keogh with Kim Smee and Avi Vince

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