Rugby League

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Crunch time for Cronulla as decision draws near

HIGH-FLYING Cronulla are safely ensconced in the top eight, but there is considerable tension off the field with a NSW government decision on their $200 million redevelopment around Toyota Stadium imminent.

A spokesman for the O'Farrell government's Department of Planning and Infrastructure told the Herald it was finalising its recommendation to the Planning Assessment Commission on whether the club-saving financial rescue plan should go ahead. After nearly 18 months, it is anticipated it could be delivered, and released publicly, within days.

A positive recommendation would be a huge win for a club thriving on the field this year under coach Shane Flanagan, despite a limited budget. If the redevelopment - which includes a 600-unit residential complex - is given the red light, there will be grave consequences in the Sutherland Shire.

Sharks officials have said the football arm of the club will survive in any case, but it would be ''curtains'' for the Cronulla Sutherland Leagues Club attached to Toyota Stadium, according to a source with close links to the organisation. The St George bank is owed about $13 million and is likely to foreclose on the loan if the redevelopment package hits a dead end.

The project, which would also include a retail and restaurant component on the land owned by the Sharks near the stadium, has been devised by the club in conjunction with a consortium of three property developers, led by Bluestone Capital Ventures, to alleviate Cronulla's crippling debt.

Under the terms of the proposal, the Sharks would receive $10 million from their property partner within 90 days of the redevelopment being approved, allowing them to pay off a large portion of that outstanding money almost immediately.


Flanagan's team has already overcome some considerable hurdles this season to be equal second on points. But the redevelopment hangs in the balance, having had to jump through significant political hoops, and battle against local council and community opposition.

The Sharks' proposal was logged as a ''state significant'' project under planning legislation in the final days of the NSW Labor government last year. The O'Farrell government scrapped those laws but, rather than being sent back for council approval, it was allowed to remain under the department's jurisdiction, with the final decision to be made by the independent Planning Assessment Commission. That body will focus on the issue once it receives the department's recommendation.

Cronulla chairman Damian Irvine declined to comment, and the club's property partner said all it could do was wait for the recommendation to drop. While the project is of considerable importance to the club, Bluestone stressed the need for housing and retail in the Woolooware area.

''We've followed the process to date,'' Bluestone managing director Ben Fairfax said. ''We've listened to the community, we've responded to the concerns of the community, we've met with all the relevant agencies and responded to their concerns.

''We've been very transparent in the process and we, like everyone, wait to hear the recommendation of the department.''

The Sharks have stressed the club would survive if the redevelopment is turned down, saying their frugality in recent years had resulted in a sustainable entity. Under the current regime's strict spending set-up - they have not employed a chief executive since Richard Fisk quit two years ago - club losses have been cut back from $3.5 million annually to $400,000 in three years.

There are fears the death of the leagues club would have a serious ripple-on effect to the Sharks' under-age teams.