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QUESTIONS ASKED: Fate of development site remains unsure

By Mark Beale

The Crime and Corruption Commission is about to be called into Whitsunday affairs once again over the sale of council land at Waterson Way.

Members of the Whitsunday Ratepayers’ Association are asking the corruption watchdog to investigate deputy mayor Andrew Willcox’s conduct surrounding the proposed Chinatown site. They’re alleging that before using his casting vote to terminate the sale, Cr Willcox tried to secure the land for “a friend” – something he emphatically denies.

THE WRA executive team was critical of Cr Willcox’s decision not to allow a last extension to Whitsunday Chinatown Investment Pty Ltd at a special council meeting on February 3.

But now they’ve gone one step further, saying he’d already found another buyer and claiming that is why, on February 24, he tried to have the land valued again.

Cr Willcox said this was “the silliest allegation I’ve ever heard”.

“And that’s interesting isn’t it, because two days before that they’d put out a release saying it was absolutely ridiculous (for me) to knock it (Chinatown) on the head because there were no other buyers around,” he said.

Nonetheless WRA secretary Tony Moscato also questioned the wording of Cr Willcox’s motion, asking council to seek two new independent valuations of the land and sell it with a reserve price of the lower of these.

As reported in the Whitsunday Times last week, the motion lapsed for want of a seconder but Mr Moscato said had it been successful, ratepayers could have been further out of pocket; raising concerns that Cr Willcox was “helping a friend to acquire the land for a pittance”.

Cr Willcox however said he simply reverted to the wording of the original motion used when 45-71 Waterson Way was first selected for sale.

“And that’s what you do in business. If the deal falls over, you go back to the original intent and start again,” he said.

Cr Willcox also addressed why council had previously resolved to accept the lower of the valuations, saying this was “because we were putting conditions on it to stimulate development”.

Mr Moscato, WRA president David Gillman and treasurer Ross Plowman said this wasn’t good enough and that, in the absence of mayor Jennifer Whitney, it was Cr Willcox’s responsibility to better lead the project team.

Meanwhile the developer, Peter Raymond Wang, is still in limbo about where his Chinatown project sits.

Former state deputy premier Jim Elder said he met with Mr Wang this week in his capacity as current deputy chair of Whitsundays Marketing and Development Limited (WMDL) “to see if there was an opportunity to re-engage on his project, to endeavour to help him understand the current political situation and to keep him in a positive frame of mind in terms of investing in this region”.

“It would be an understatement to say he feels betrayed by councillors he believed supported his project,” Mr Elder said.

“He said these councillors had been to his house, enjoyed his hospitality and spoke openly about how good his project would be for the Whitsundays, then they turn around, undermine it and vote to cancel the contract.”

Mr Elder said in his opinion Mr Wang was still very committed to the Whitsundays and had already spoken to his legal team about preserving his rights in the development of a Whitsunday Chinatown.

“And as someone who has spent a decade encouraging economic development and investment in this region… it is disappointing (to me) that it now comes down to a legal argument over what should have been a $300 million boost to the region,” he said.

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