JOIN THE DEBATE: Council backs gallery upgrade

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THE $10.5 million Albury Art Gallery redevelopment will proceed after game-changing moves by two councillors who previously opposed Albury Council rescuing the project.

Cr Henk van de Ven produced the first shock last night when he declared a pecuniary conflict of interest in the issue and abstained from the vote.

Cr David Thurley backflipped on his position last November when the council requested more community consultation.

The 5-3 vote to go ahead was met with applause from a large public gallery containing relieved Friends of the Art Gallery members, who had feared the project would be moth-balled.

Cr van de Ven revealed he had purchased property “some time ago” adjacent to the council-owned Lavington Oval, which had become linked to the debate as a revised target to receive council funding.

“I have never backed away from a vote on council and never abrogated my responsibility as a councillor to vote for what I believe is in the best interests of the community,” he said.

“In this case, however, circumstances dictate that I abstain from any involvement with the decision-making process.”

Cr van de Ven said his property would increase in value if the sports hub went ahead.

The council has effectively given up on the NSW government matching the $3.5 million the federal government and Albury ratepayers had each committed and is banking on a fund-raising group coming up with $1.05 million to meet some of the shortfall.

Cr Thurley said the fund-raising group and clearly identified sources of money helped sway his vote.

“I felt at the time the council had not done sufficient work to find alternative funding despite knowing since August the state government wasn’t contributing,” he said.

“I have always pushed strongly that philanthropic and other funds could be found.

“The money is not in the bank, but I am prepared to support it on that basis.”

Councillors Darren Cameron, Kevin Mack and Ross Jackson remained strongly opposed to the council spending at least $6 million on the project.

“I don’t believe the majority of Albury ratepayers support spending this amount of money,” Cr Cameron said.

“What happens if the working party doesn’t achieve the $1.05 million in private capital?” he asked.

“We have been running deficit budgets for the past several years and I would be very surprised if it is not recommended to us again.”

Cr Mack said the money devoted to the art gallery could be better spent in Lavington and Thurgoona.

“I would prefer to see the money spent on our growth corridors,” he said

“Thurgoona has long been neglected by successive councils and the time is nigh to rectify the situation.”

Former art gallery director Audray Banfield praised the decision.

“It just goes to show there are sane and intelligent people on council who are prepared to listen to their senior staff.”