With the public release of a controversial audit and council staff meetings to discuss the future of Nabiac Showground’s cattleyards, a local petition demanding MidCoast Council reconsider its sudden decision to close the saleyards is gathering momentum.
“The decision to close the Nabiac Saleyards has been made without any regard to the impact on local businesses, land values, local amenities and ongoing sales,” a petition letter penned by Nabiac farmer James De Berg states.
“With all due respect, the decision is based on a lack of information and data and we urge you to reconsider the determination and enter into genuine consultation with the community.”
It didn’t take long for a crowd to gather in support of local stock agent Gooch Agencies protest at the yards’ sudden closure on Thursday. Gooch has been holding monthly cattle sales at the yards for approximately 10 years. What began as informal sales almost 40 years ago today attracts up to 500 head of cattle, as well as several hundred buyers from across the district and beyond. Sales are held alongside Nabiac’s popular farmers market, also at the showground. Both bring in significant revenue for the area, thanks to the flow on effect to Nabiac’s local businesses, and complement the village’s pride in its rural identity.
But the showground is situated on land zoned as Crown Reserve, which according to council’s John Dougherty is stipulated for public recreational use only and is not licensed for commercial activities.
On top of this, an independent audit recently commissioned by council also cites safety and animal welfare concerns. Released online by council on Monday (January 9), the report found the cattleyards posed serious risks to the public and failed to meet minimum requirements for Saleyards.
“We’ve known about the state of the yards for some time,” said council’s manager for property and building assets John Dougherty, citing a previous but unsuccessful attempt by council to gain State Government funding to replace the old timber posts with steel yards.
“If something were to happen, it’s council’s liability.”
The audit report states that council receives a flat rental amount of $320 for each sale.
“This amount of revenue is insufficient to cover the upkeep and maintenance of the facility explaining why the state of the saleyards has declined.”
The audit examined both improvement ($350,000) or replacement strategies (more than $1 million) for the saleyards, either of which would incur substantial losses for council unless it charged a premium for each head of cattle sold.
“Overall the yards are in a very poor state,” the audit summarised.
Past concerns have focused primarily on the state of the yards themselves. But the audit revealed further problems with water access and effluent control. Licensing issues also need to be addressed.
“It’s not enough to just fix the yards anymore,” Mr Dougherty said.
“In the 22 years (Great Lakes) council has been managing and collecting rent from they saleyards they have spent very little on maintenance at the showground,” Nabiac Show Society president, David Reeve said.
The society has been working with Gooch Agencies to find a solution to the state of the yards for some time and worked together over December to start rebuilding the yards at their own cost and expense. It was estimated about $100,000 would complete the work needed. Gooch Agencies has said it would foot the bill.
“I asked him to put his plans in writing. I took them back to council but they weren’t happy with it,” Mr Dougherty said, requesting the plans after seeing what he said was unauthorised work.
He said council had notified Gooch Agencies of the audit’s findings three weeks prior to closing the yards ahead of January’s scheduled cattle sale.
Mr Dougherty said that council wouldn’t knock back Gooch’s money, but it would need to fit a plan towards addressing all of the audit’s issues – should council decide reopening the saleyards was its ultimate goal.
“We will be talking further with Gooch, key stakeholders and the community,” he said.
“We fully understood the impact it would have on the community but we couldn’t risk it… We are still looking at it but we had to make that decision for now,” Mr Dougherty said.
“We need to digest this report and consider three main elements: safety and animal welfare; crown land issues; how big do we want it all to be?... Do we as a council need another commercial cattle facility?”
The MidCoast region is serviced by two licensed stockyards - both owned by MidCoast Council - for commercial livestock sales at Taree and Gloucester.
At this stage, council’s edict to close the saleyards only affects cattle sales. Staff are currently reviewing the use of the stockyards for other community purposes, such as campdrafts and rodeos, which bring in less cattle.
But many people attending an informal gathering at the saleyards on Thursday morning when the news spread, were asking, ‘what’s next’? The agricultural show, campdraft and junior rodeo annually attract thousands of visitors and inject thousands of tourist dollars into the town.
Gooch Agencies said it was looking forward to working with council to find a resolution to the matter. It would comment further next week.
With council staff scheduled to discuss the issues on Tuesday, the yards’ future remains for now, unknown.