Gunning residents have criticised a lack of community consultation and long-term clarity for proposed independent living units in their town.
Long-term advocate and resident Ann Darbyshire said the work by Gunning District Community Health Service (GDCHS) was an important and valued facility in the community, but condemned its diluted plans.
“The abandonment by GDCHS of the independent living units for seniors, a proposal identified by the community as a priority, goes beyond personal regard for those currently serving on the management committee," she said. “Those who have been made aware have been variously shocked, dismayed and outraged.”
News the land may be sold off was only revealed in a letter from GDCHS in response to a resident who was seeking clarification earlier this year. No official announcement has been made so far.
The need for senior living units in Gunning was identified seven years ago, resulting in the conception of Gunning Independent Living Limited (GIL) and plans to build eight units on 62-64 Biala Street. In the following three years the group, made up of residents, submitted a development application to the Upper Lachlan Shire Council (ULSC) for the proposed dwellings.
The land, purchased at a reduced price due to the nature of its functions, was titled the ‘Home Paddock Project’. Parallel to this, a series of donations were collected at multiple community events and via individual donors. In early 2014 the ULSC passed the DA with complete support from the council.
“Developer contributions under section 94 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 should be waived in this instance, on the basis that the proposed development is not for private gain, but rather to meet community needs,” a ULSC Business Paper read.
Despite community and the council support, the previously singular channel of donations was unsustainable and additional grant money was sought.
By late 2015, GIL approached GDCHS about the organisations’s deductible gift recipient status. The transference would allow the proposed project to accept tax deductible gifts and apply for large grant funding.
A second GDCHS sub committee was formed as a result of this. In the past 15 months, those previously attached to GIL claim actions discussed by the sub committee have been half-hearted and indecisive.
GDCHS secretary Michael Coley disagreed with these claims and argued the land was purchased with the idea to build the units.
“The fundamental issue was getting the money required to get the units,” Mr Coley said. “It was not GDCHS initiative to buy the land. GIL wrote to us.”
Both the land and money transferred to GDCHS last year. A figure close to $5000 in donations was collected from GDCHS from a total of $15,000 over the years.
Mr Coley said a letter was sent out to GIL that identified a possible sale of the land if the project was unsuccessful within a certain time. Currently, the land is still in the possession of GDCHS.
“Finding the money [for the project] hasn’t been able to happen. We will return the money to those who donated as best we can, but we can’t give a guarantee,” he said. “There is something happening, we haven’t come to an end of the line. There is a full intention to keep everyone in the loop in the meantime.”
Mr Coley emphasised the GDCHS had always tried to be open and clear. He said there may be plans for another company to take on the project.
But Ms Darbyshire said she was “dismayed that this decision, a particularly momentous one, does not need to be taken to the community from which its inception was drawn”. She said the GDCHS denied a request from residents urging committee members to call a special meeting.
“The claim that the project is unviable runs counter to what we believe,” she said. “I believe that the project could still succeed if some of the funding options previously identified were to be actively pursued.
“In the 2016 AGM, the two principal matters in relation to progressing the independent living units were mentioned: fundraising and community engagement. Neither of these appears to have been undertaken.”