Ocean Baths Engagement Brought Forward

Filed under Cityscape, Community, Heritage & Historical, Letters, News ~ by Editor on  26 Nov 2019

City of Newcastle has “brought forward” planned engagement on the Newcastle and Merewether ocean baths’ pavilions, citing “community interest in the sites’ futures.”

Newcastle Ocean Baths awaiting renovation in 2019.

When Newcastle City Council (“City of Newcastle”) sought expressions of interest (EoI) for a potential partnership to upgrade the pavilions (following changes to NSW government Crown Land legislation) it was stung by what it termed were misleading claims that Newcastle Ocean Baths “would be privatised with the general public locked out from the community facilities.”

While those might have been the headlines, criticism was more pointedly about several quite likely (and feared) outcomes.

Some critics were concerned by a concept art for Newcastle Ocean Baths depicting a box-like structure discordant with the period architecture and crowding the façade and pavilion.

Others objected to consequent changes to the baths’ primary use, making it more of an entertainment venue to attract “non-bathers” with potential loss of bather privacy, increased noise, competition for access, and loss of always limited parking spaces.

In short, opponents fear that development – by a long-term lessee as a for-profit venture – beyond its present use would detract from the ocean baths as one of the city’s few remaining “old world” spaces. A gain of income for the city could mean a loss of enjoyment for traditional bathers.

The Lord Mayor’s use of the term “redevelop” is the crux.

Would current patrons want anything redeveloped? Are not repairs and renovations to the original structure, and return to it’s original magnificence and functionality, all that are needed?

That seems to be the consensus of citizen commentary so far. A petition circulated by Friends of Newcastle Ocean Baths that gathered 7500 signatures pleads exactly that: “Stop both Expressions of Interest processes… Restore and protect Newcastle .. Ocean Baths.”

The Newcastle Coastal Plan of Management, unanimously adopted by Council in 2015, prescribes that EoIs should be undertaken for the baths pavilions and that “possible future uses of these pavilions could include cafes, kiosks and restaurants.”

Does the city need another restaurant, café, or party-goers’ venue?

Interest High

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said it was important that engagement on the future of the pavilions was brought forward from 2020 to allow the community to once again have their say while interest was high.

City of Newcastle’s calls for expressions of interest to redevelop the Merewether and Newcastle ocean baths’ pavilions has struck a chord with many Novocastrians and unfortunately led some to believe there are set plans for the sites,” the Lord Mayor said.

An expressions of interest process is a transparent way to assess our options when it comes to the future of the baths pavilions, versus the regular unsolicited approaches that may come to the City. Should any suitable responses be received, these would form the basis of considerable consultation and engagement with the community before the any next steps are taken.”

Given the interest by the community and their recent concern around the future of the sites, City of Newcastle is bringing forward from next year its planned engagement program, allowing the community to have their say in a structured and meaningful way.

Engagement on the baths will be ongoing for the two pavilions. We’re committed to hearing more from the broader community along with baths users as we work towards upgrading the sites. Doing nothing on these sites is not an option.”

The EOI period for the Newcastle and Merewether Ocean baths closes 17 December 2019.

The City has committed to retaining the iconic art-deco façade of Newcastle Ocean Baths, as well as the famous bleacher seating, while improving public amenity by providing improved shade, car parking, disability access, seating, and paving as well as new public change rooms with hot water showers in line with the 2014 engagement results.

The City undertook a broad engagement program for the pavilions in 2014, attracting 550 responses, prior to seeking expressions of interest (EOIs) in 2015 for a potential partnership to redevelop the sites in line with the approved Plan of Management. However, no suitable responses were received.

We’ve had feedback from those concerned about the baths upgrades that the engagement from 2014 is out of date and doesn’t reflect the current position of the community,” said Deputy Lord Mayor Cr Clausen.

We’re taking that on board and are inviting feedback on our online ideas wall, along with face-to-face and telephone surveys over summer.”



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