Community fight to save Port Stephens Aquatic and Sailing Club as council seeks EOI on operator licence

SAVE OUR CLUB: Port Stephens residents and sailing enthusiasts rally to keep the aquatic and sailing club in Salamander Bay in community hands.
SAVE OUR CLUB: Port Stephens residents and sailing enthusiasts rally to keep the aquatic and sailing club in Salamander Bay in community hands.

For more than 40 years, Port Stephens Sailing and Aquatic Club (PSSAC) has been the proud home of dinghy sailing at Port Stephens.

The clubhouse overlooking the waters of Salamander Bay was built by community volunteers in support of club, state, national and international regattas, in addition to learn to sail programs for all ages, most notably children.

The club is now in danger of being handed over to another operator.

Many in the Port's sailing fraternity say they were both shocked and disappointed that Port Stephens Council had taken the unusual step to call, for the first time in 40-plus years, for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the licence of the premises.

"We are disappointed that the council has sought to conduct an EOI for the use of the club premises. We are confident that our successful record of promoting sailing, engaging with and supporting our local community together with the very significant financial flow on into the business community through regattas will make a compelling case for PSSAC to secure the club for the next five years," a PSSAC spokesperson said.

Picture: Henk Tobbe

Picture: Henk Tobbe

A council spokesperson agreed that an EOI process for a sporting club was not standard.

"The decision was a result of significant concerns regarding the health and safety protocols of the occupancy licence," the spokesperson said.

"The council has engaged in significant consultation with the licensee regarding the terms of the occupancy licence and the health and safety of the club's members.

"We have worked closely with the club regarding these matters since they were first brought to our attention in November 2019. We take our health and safety obligations very seriously and expect our licensees to operate with a high regard for safety.

"Unfortunately, these discussions were not able to bring about the confidence that we needed prior to the licence expiring on June 30, 2020."

The closing date for EOI submissions is 5pm on Friday, August 28.

The council decision has angered many in the sailing community, including Corlette's Cherylle Stone, a sailing enthusiast and advocate for junior programs.

"Port Stephens Council is seeking EOI from far and wide for the tender to operate the club facility, irrespective of the fact the club committee and members wish to continue in the venue. Usually, if there is a viable committee and membership, the council just renews the license or lease with the current community group," Ms Stone said.

"Like the Anna Bay Tennis Club, this sailing and aquatic club is attractive to a developer. My greater concern is that is the council can do this to one community organisation it can do it to any."

Image shows boats lined up on the shore outside the Port Stephens Sailing and Aquatic Club. Picture: Facebook/Port Stephens Sailing & Aquatic Club Inc.

Image shows boats lined up on the shore outside the Port Stephens Sailing and Aquatic Club. Picture: Facebook/Port Stephens Sailing & Aquatic Club Inc.

Ms Stone said that the building was erected by dedicated members and maintained well over the course of its lease.

"The club and the building are an integral part of junior sailing in this community with learn-to-sail programs and regattas which attract significant numbers of young people and families to Port Stephens," she said.

"The building was erected by dedicated members some 50 years ago and maintained well over the course of its lease. Successive committees have worked hard to maintain junior sailing in this area and the club currently has an active membership and a committee keen to promote sailing for kids and families."

Ms Stone said that it was highly unusual for licenses of sporting facilities to be put out to public tender.

PSSAC life member Barry Pownall said that the club should remain in community hands for the benefit of all sailors.

"This club was built by volunteer members and has seen countless sailing enthusiasts, both young and old, come through the ranks."

Another life member Graham Oborn said that the sailing community would be keen to see the club retained for its current purposes, but acknowledged that he council had to go through its statutory processes.

"We have met with council representatives and will be following the due processes."

2020 Skiffs Australia Championship at Port Stephens Sailing and Aquatic Club in January. Picture: Facebook/Port Stephens Sailing & Aquatic Club Inc.

2020 Skiffs Australia Championship at Port Stephens Sailing and Aquatic Club in January. Picture: Facebook/Port Stephens Sailing & Aquatic Club Inc.

The PSSAC spokesperson said that the volunteer run club promotes and supports dinghy sailing for all ages, and was an accredited Discover Sailing Centre for junior and adult learn to sail programs.

"One of our key activities each year is hosting a number national and state championship regattas for various classes of dinghies and catamarans," the spokesperson said.

"These spectacular events attract up to 200 boats together with their crews and their families to Port Stephens and provide a very substantial financial injection into the local economy through accommodation, meals and tourism. Our sailing waters and conditions are second to none."

All proposals should be lodged before the closing date (August 30) in person at 116 Adelaide Street, Raymond Terrace, NSW; by post to Port Stephens Council PO Box 42 Raymond Terrace NSW 2324 or by email to Property.Services@portstephens.nsw.gov.au.