Developer calls on council to release Le Cornu site contract

Adelaide City Council will reconsider its decision to keep secret the land contract for the $250m Eighty Eight O’Connell St project, after its developer called for the documents to be released “in the public’s interest”.

Aug 01, 2022, updated Aug 01, 2022
An architect’s render of Woods Bagot-designed towers at Eighty Eight O’Connell. Photo supplied.

An architect’s render of Woods Bagot-designed towers at Eighty Eight O’Connell. Photo supplied.

Council administration came under fire last month for refusing a Freedom of Information request from North Adelaide residents group leader Robert Farnan.

He had sought access to the “Executed Land Facilitation Agreement” signed between developers Commercial & General and the City of Adelaide for the $250m old Le Cornu site project in North Adelaide.

The decision prompted former federal senator Rex Patrick, who is weighing up a run for lord mayor, to file his own FOI request for the contract and claim the decision “creates the impression that the Adelaide City Council can only function properly in an environment of secrecy”.

It’s clear that the Council has taken an unreasonable approach to this.

The Council’s FOI officer rejected Farnan’s request on the grounds that the contract contained confidential material and information that could “adversely affect the financial and property interest of Council”.

“The information in question relates to the contractual terms applied to the contractor (Commercial & General), release of which could have a detrimental effect on the commercial position of the contractor,” the FOI officer wrote to Farnan on June 6.

“Parties to the Agreement are bound by confidentiality clauses within the Agreement which prohibit release or disclosure of any information pertaining to the terms of the Agreement.

“The factors against disclosure therefore outweigh those in favour and I consider that, on balance, it would be contrary to the public interest to release the document.”

But the Council’s justification for keeping the land contract under wraps no longer has support from the contractor itself.

In an opinion piece published in InDaily today, Commercial & General executive chairman Jamie McClurg said the company is “choosing to waive our right to object to its release and will support Mr Patrick’s FOI request”.

“We think the documents should be released because it is in the public’s interest to do so,” McClurg writes.

“We’re also happy for the contract to be made public because we are confident it will stand up to any fair-minded scrutiny.”

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A City of Adelaide spokesperson said Commercial & General’s views on the matter would be taken into account.

“City of Adelaide will determine Mr Patrick’s FOI application within the required timeframe in accordance with the relevant legislation, taking into consideration the stage at which the project currently is and the views of Commercial & General,” the spokesperson said.

Patrick’s FOI request is due for a response around August 13.

The long-time transparency advocate said Commercial & General’s comments “[leave] the Council in the position where they will have no choice but to release the whole contract to me, which I will then make public”.

“It’s clear that the Council has taken an unreasonable approach to this, and that appears to reflect a secrecy culture inside the organisation,” he said.

“If that’s the case, then the Lord Mayor and Councillors have an obligation to bring about a change in the organisation. Everything the Council does it does for public purpose and on the ratepayer’s coin.”

Patrick, who is widely tipped to challenge current Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor for the top job, does not have a position on the merits of Commercial & General North Adelaide development.

The project includes two 13-storey towers and one 15-storey tower accommodating retail and commercial space, as well as 160 residential apartments priced upwards of $400,000, with 15 per cent dedicated to affordable housing.

Construction on the $250m project commenced in April.

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