“Political grandstanding”: Councillors bicker in heated debate over stadium

The Penrith Paceway on Station Street. Photo: Melinda Jane
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A new stadium would have been a fitting venue for the slanging match that unfolded at Penrith City Council on Monday night, as Councillors became entrenched in an emotional debate about the proposed Penrith Stadium development.

Labor Councillor Karen McKeown moved a motion for Council to oppose any residential development or residential rezoning on both the Penrith Paceway site and the current Penrith Stadium site but was accused of having a political motive by her Liberal colleagues.

“This motion is very direct. It is very concise. It is clear and unambiguous. It sends a message to our community about where this Council stands on these two sites,” Cr McKeown said.

“I know there is some misinformation out there in the community about where this Council does stand, and I think this motion definitely clears that up and sends that real leadership message to our residents.”

Labor Councillor Karen McKeown. Photo: Melinda Jane.

Liberal Councillor Ross Fowler questioned how the recommendation would add to a resolution which was already passed on August 22 that recognised that Council knew the Penrith Paceway site is zoned private recreation.

It also noted that Council did not support the re-zoning of the Paceway site for high-rise development, and it supported the existing stadium to become a dedicated public open space.

It also supported the full relocation of the current Penrith Paceway facilities at no cost to the Penrith District A, H & I Society to a suitable location within the Penrith Local Government Area.

With all the Labor Councillors not attending the meeting in person and instead appearing virtually, Cr McKeown and Councillor John Thain believed that the addition would bring clarity to the community by including the point that the former stadium site would not be rezoned.

Liberal Councillor Mark Davies accused Labor of “political grandstanding”.

Sparking a strong reaction from Cr McKeown, who accused him of vilifying her family name, Cr Davies said perhaps she would like a “McKeown Towers” to be built instead.

“You’ve been on Council as long as I have. You know that the land is flood zone. You know in the last previous motion that it wasn’t to be rezoned. I mean, how much clearer can you be?” Cr Davies asked.

Liberal Councillor Mark Davies. Photo: Melinda Jane.

Liberal Councillors argued that the previous resolution, which spoke of high rise development, clearly covered all residential development at the site.

“It seems like tonight we are wasting time with political grandstanding to try to do some covering up and trying to politically come out on top, where to me it’s just causing more confusion across this city because it doesn’t make any sense,” Cr Davies said.

“You back the Panthers. You back the stadium. You back no rezoning, and you back open space. That means and equals no residential.”

Expressing his disappointment, Liberal Councillor Bernard Bratusa made the point suggesting that his Labor colleagues supported high rise development, but not residential development, but removed it after it was strongly disputed by Cr Thain.

Cr Bratusa suggested adding both motions together, but Cr McKeown spoke against the amendment, saying it was specifically targeting the issue of residential development and rezoning of the two sites.

The current Penrith Stadium. Photo: NRL Photos.

In a final amendment which was seconded by Independent Councillor Jonathan Pullen, Cr Bratusa added the two recommendations from Cr McKeown to the previous motion that was carried in August as well as the point that Council supports Infrastructure NSW’s proposed redevelopment of Penrith Stadium on the Penrith Paceway site.

Councillors Shipley, Fowler, Gardiner, Bratusa, Rusev, Davies, Hitchen, Crameri, Day and Pullen all voted for the motion which carried it. Despite having their points included, Councillors McKeown, Thain and Cook abstained from voting which is counted as votes against the motion.

Councillors Aitken and Carney had leave of absences from the meeting.

The stadium is expected to remain a heated issue in the coming months leading into the NSW State Election in March.

Sitting Liberal MP Stuart Ayres has been a driving force behind the stadium’s development and the acquisition of the Paceway.

Cr McKeown is Labor’s representative taking on Mr Ayres in Penrith. Labor is hopeful it could secure the seat for the first time since it was lost in the 2010 by-election.

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