The Minister for Lands and Forestry Paul Toole has responded to claims by the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW (ASC) that the new Crown Lands Act puts shows in jeopardy and at the mercy of councils.
Mr Toole said the new act would "ensure the continued access and use of showgrounds across NSW".
The ASC had expressed alarm that the term 'showground' had been iced out of any reference in the new act and that in some cases 200 years of tenure and stewardship of showgrounds had been tossed out the window by bureaucrats.
The Agricultural Societies Council of NSW says it is fighting a losing battle to get changes in the NSW Crown Lands Act 2016.
The ASC is arguing for the act to be changed or regulations brought in to restore the entitlement that show societies believe they have earned over nearly 200 years in some places to maintain and use showgrounds. The ASC wants council and public managers required to consult user groups before decisions are made on showgrounds.
It says now they are at the mercy of community trusts and may be given only a one-year lease on crown land they formerly had long-term leases on. It says six years of negotiations with Crown Lands and under three state minsters has failed to provide an outcome that gives agricultural societies any recognition or stability of tenure. ASC NSW president David Peters said the ASC asked for legislative protection in the new act.
"We asked that there be a definition within the Act for "Showground". This did not happen," Mr Peters said.
"That there be appointed an independent arbitrator for dispute resolution. An Arbitrator is mentioned in the Act/regulations although requests to find out when and how the arbitrator is activated and what his powers will be have been ignored."
Mr Toole said he was sure the new Act would give security to Agricultural Societies. He said the ASC issues were not brought up with him.
"We recognise the need for show societies to be able to plan for future events - and generally there's nothing stopping councils who manage showgrounds renewing existing leases or granting new leases to show societies for up to 21 years," he said.
"Since the Act switched on, there has been no change to the ownership of showgrounds on Crown land. No showgrounds have had their title transferred to council. No additional showgrounds have been transferred to councils to manage.
"Protections for showgrounds continue to exist in the new legislation. In fact, we have strengthened this, giving the community more say than ever before about the use of Crown land, including showgrounds.
"We've also appointed a Crown Land Commissioner in 2018 whose role is to represent the interests of all Crown land users and is happy to meet with any stakeholders. The NSW Government has invested about $10 million in showgrounds on Crown land in the past three years including $3.8 million last year which benefitted 47 showgrounds."
The ASC says it is particularly concerned it hasn't been consulted by the Dubbo Regional Council over changes to Dubbo Showgrounds.
Dubbo Council denies this.
In a response for The Land, the Council issued this statement:
"Dubbo Regional Council has commissioned the development of a master plan for the Dubbo Showgrounds to guide future development of the site in line community needs, visions and expectations.
Initially developed in 1876 for the staging of the Dubbo Show and for public recreation uses, the Dubbo Showground has now grown to become a major multi-use facility for Dubbo and residents from across the region.
The Dubbo Showground is located on Crown land with Dubbo Regional Council appointed Trustee of the Dubbo Showground Reserve effective 24 March 1996. Council's willingness to become involved in the Showground was to ensure its long-term financial viability and ongoing operation for the wider community.
Chief Executive office of Dubbo Regional Council, Michael McMahon said the Dubbo Showgrounds currently operates as a multi-use facility supporting a diverse range agriculture, sporting, recreation and cultural events with a high level of demands from a variety of groups, however the expectations from local, regional and national users are only expected to increase.
"The Dubbo Showgrounds is extremely well utilised, but there is certainly a need for strategic planning and investment to support the long term future of the site. Whilst any master planning process can be really exciting, the challenge with any proposed investment in community assets is in ensuring your community, user groups and customers have the willingness and capacity to also invest. This could be capital projects, user groups growing their use of the facility and ensuring affordable fees and lease arrangements,' said Mr McMahon.
As part of this master planning Council has engaged an independent consultant @leisure Planners Pty Ltd who has extensive experience developing efficient, multipurpose showgrounds, sporting and community infrastructure that works towards the site's sustainability, versatility and affordability for all users. With a view to developing a well-informed draft master plan to take out to broader community consultation process. The consultants have worked closely with all of the showground user groups to ensure their priorities moving into the future are taken into consideration.
"There has been a high level on engagement from a diverse range of groups with users keen to have input on the future of the Showground. There have been a variety of views and ideas captured so far, and a willingness from user groups to listen to each other which is critical when your reviewing a facility that has so many users," Mr McMahon said.
"Consultation to date has included one-on one meetings with key stakeholders such as the Show Society, one on one phone calls with diverse range of clubs, association and event holders. In addition two user workshops where held - with invitations extended to 46 user groups.
"Council were keen to ensure that the masterplan gathered input from a diverse range of users - and have gone to great lengths to see that a variety of ideas are captured. This resulted in some very exciting ideas and the level of enthusiasm from the user groups has been commented on by the independent consultants working on the plan, " he said.
"The first part of the plan has focused on talking with existing users, but Council is also keen to ensure input from the broader community - including potential users is also captured.
"The Showground is a tremendous social, cultural and economic asset in our community. As trustees of the site Dubbo Regional Council want to ensure that the site is supported by long term vision - a shared vision of Council and the community. Council are hopeful that this master plan delivers improvement in the short term - but also financial sustainability through good management and community use in the future," said Mr McMahon
"Following the consultation with current users, a draft master plan which has taken into account the needs, the demands and the desires of the existing users will be developed and presented at the Ordinary Meeting of Council in April of this year.
"Whilst Council respects the history and high sense of specific community group interest in the Showgrounds, as trustees Council are accountable for listening to new ideas and improvements from all users and the broader community who all financially support the operations of the Dubbo Showgrounds. Working with such a diverse range of user groups and the regional community Council will be best positioned make informed and transparent decisions in order to deliver on an exciting, sustainable and successful future for the Dubbo Showgrounds," Mr McMahon said.
"The draft plan, if adopted by Council will then it will go on public exhibition in order for the whole of the Dubbo Region to have their opportunity to contribute feedback and ideas for any future investment or redevelopment the space. This exhibition period will include further consultation activities including face to face, online surveys, mainstream media and social media promotion."
The ASC says public statements contradict the statement.
Mr Peters said : "That Crown Land Managers (Trusts) be required to consult with user groups for management advice. While this happened for Community Land Managers it did not for Council Land Managers. This point was mainly aimed at Councils as they have a history of not consulting users when making decisions about showgrounds. Buildings vital to the show and erected by the show society have been demolished without the show knowing. Dubbo Council are the "Land Managers" for Dubbo Showground. The Dubbo Council GM publicly stated that the council would make decisions on the current upgrading of the showground without any input from the users."
"The minister and others have stated that the power to sell crown land was always within the act, and that is true. Right across NSW council employees are saying to show societies "we will own the showground soon" that was not happening under the previous act.
"Councils as Crown Land Managers have the power to grant long term leases and licences without the minister's approval. Today many of our community showgrounds are under threat from a NSW Act of parliament that should be there to protect them." The minister can hand over the title to crown lands to local government at will.