Glenbrook Rotary markets are under threat

The popular Glenbrook Rotary markets are under threat because of public risk liability issues, traffic complaints and a new tendering process by the NSW Department of Education.

State member for Penrith, Stuart Ayres, has been forced to intervene in negotiations between Rotary and the Education Department, calling the situation "farcical" and demanding the department "stop wasting time".

Mr Ayres, who is also the Minister for Tourism and now the state's deputy Liberal leader, told the Gazette he has "written to the Minister for Education to have the Glenbrook Rotary Markets matter fast-tracked".

"This situation is farcical and the Department needs to stop wasting time and enter a direct negotiation with Rotary.

"I want these successful and much loved markets to continue as they have for over 17 years."

Closure of the twice monthly markets would mean the loss of about $50,000 in annual funds to the community.

On top of those problems, Lower Blue Mountains Rotary has had to submit a development application to Blue Mountains City Council for the event which is held in the grounds of the old Glenbrook Infants School site, after traffic complaints from some residents.

The DA was submitted in late July.

The last market was held on June 19 and then closed due to the COVID lockdown.

A Rotary spokesman, the original instigator of the markets, Ken Linfoot, said they had an issue with public liability insurance. The Education Department requires community users of schools to name them as jointly insured under Rotary's policy and indemnify the state against all liabilities,which he said, Rotary's insurance cannot cover.

He said it would "seem to have implications for other organisations wanting to take advantage of 'community use' opportunities on government school sites" and that "bureaucrats" had decided they would "have to submit to a tender process to win the right to conduct the markets".

Lower Blue Mountains Rotary president Garry Smith said that the long term financial impact for the community goes deeper than annual figures indicate. About 1400 visitors attend the market on average.

"The Glenbrook markets have been the most successful markets in the area since 2004 with more than $300,000 raised for Rotary's local and international charities - and $75,000 paid in rent to Springwood High School which has served as landlord in recent years," Mr Smith said.

The markets have funded everything from youth mentoring, literacy and Australia Day activities to emergency services support, community facilities and Christmas hampers and welfare packages via Gateway Services.

"Apart from the financial support, the markets are a popular social event," Mr Smith said. 'Visitors browse through the [90] stalls and then turn their attention to businesses in Glenbrook, so benefits are shared."

A spokesperson for the NSW Education said they understood the market's popularity and supported its reopening in line with NSW government directions. But the use of the land required an "open tender .. this is usual practice and ensures the process is undertaken in a fair and transparent manner".

"Glenbrook Rotary, was operating under a community use agreement rather than a licence. The department invites the Glenbrook Rotary to tender for the licence, and is committed to working with them to ensure they have the appropriate insurance so the markets can continue to operate while the open tender process runs, as per NSW Government guidelines.

"The incumbent market provider was operating under a community use agreement rather than a licence. Current department policy requires the market to operate under a licence agreement."

A public tender is expected to take place later this year. The department also requires external parties to provide evidence of insurance. The spokesperson said "to date, the incumbent has been unable to provide evidence of the required insurance". The department refused to be drawn on Mr Ayres's comments.

Rotary is waiting to hear on their DA through council. A council spokeswoman said they would continue to work with Rotary on the future of the markets, but approval was "currently being hindered by a flaw in the NSW Standard Instrument LEP".

"If council approves the DA, then council takes on liability if anything goes wrong because the current framework says that by approving it we're saying 'that no adverse impact is created'. This is difficult because council has received complaints from local residents about the impact of the markets (on traffic and parking etc)."

She said council was looking at the development of a "traffic management study of Glenbrook village and the development of a precinct parking plan which will help inform this DA".

Ward 4 councillors expressed support for the "deeply loved" markets and hope it can continue.

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said: "Four years ago the law changed, taking elected councillors out of all DA approvals. If ever I wished we had those powers back, it is now".

Cr Brendan Christie asked that "those making these decisions also consider the social benefits the markets bring to the Lower Blue Mountains".

He has started a petition to save the markets.