The Lysaght site.A $2.5 Million grant given to two Wollongong soccer clubs to move out of Brandon Park has been referred to the state’s corruption watchdog.The Department of Premier and Cabinet confirmed it had referred the matter to the Independent Commission Against Corruption this week.The department committed $2 million to help the Wollongong Wolves and Wollongong Olympic move from Brandon Park to Lysaghts Oval in 2002, to make way for the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus. It announced a further $500,000 grant in 2005.Wollongong City Council, trustee of the funds on behalf of the Premier’s department, said it was aware the matter had been referred to ICAC. In 2004, the Wolves and Wollongong Olympic entered a joint venture with Wollongong Sport and Recreation Centre Pty Ltd, owner of Lysaghts Oval, to turn the Figtree ground into the home of Illawarra football.In the contract sighted by the Illawarra Mercury, the soccer clubs agreed to pay the $2.5 million in government grants to Wollongong Sports and Recreation Centre which agreed “to endeavour to ensure” the ground was up to NSW Premier League standard for the 2005-06 season. The joint venture formed a building committee, including an independent chairman, three members from the recreation centre and one each from Wollongong Olympic and the Wolves, to oversee the project. The ground is yet to meet Illawarra Football Association or Football NSW competition standards. The grandstand frame has been erected. A department spokesman confirmed “certain allegations regarding payments from the Government relating to Wollongong soccer clubs and facilities” had been raised with the department.The matter has been referred to ICAC, which examines conduct involving or affecting NSW public officials. The ICAC Act gives the commission the discretion to decide whether or not it will conduct an investigation into any matter referred to it.Wollongong City Council general manager David Farmer said the council had fulfilled its responsibilities in terms of distributing the funds. As trustee, the council required an invoice for works, supplier invoice and verification by an authorised officer from the joint venture before funds were released.David Dowey, building committee chairman, guaranteed every dollar spent could be accounted for.”Six weeks ago, the State Government grant was down to $408,000,” Mr Dowey said. To date, the grandstand that used to stand at Brandon Park has been torn down and erected at Lysaghts Oval. Because the foundation at the Figtree complex wasn’t up to scratch, extra formwork had to be done before the slab was laid. Electrical work on the dressing rooms is set to begin next month. Four 30m light towers were erected in 2006. Mr Dowey said $1.8 million of the grant was left when he was appointed to the committee 18 months ago. The ground would be useable by March next year. “There will be changerooms and some seating,” Mr Dowey said. “Media boxes and bars won’t be completed … There are things that won’t be finished.”Mr Dowey confirmed Wollongong Sports and Recreation Centre had privately borrowed an extra $1 million to get the ground ready for next March. Two of the company’s six directors, Wally Boscoscuro and Hans Van Der Haar, said the $2.5 million was “never enough” for the project. “Wollongong Sport and Recreation are putting another $1 million into it,” Mr Boscoscuro said. Mr Van Der Haar echoed Mr Dowey’s assurance that money spent could be accounted for. “I can guarantee every cent we spend can be accounted for, without any problems,” he said. “We have taken out another $1 million loan to finish off the grandstand so it can be ready for March.”However, Wollongong Olympic have applied to IFA for entry in next year’s District League competition without specifying a home ground and Wollongong FC are trying to secure Crehan Park as their permanent base.Wollongong Olympic’s Manny Mavridis said the club was tired of waiting for a home ground.Wollongong FC CEO Jock Morlando said he hadn’t received an update about progress on the Lysaghts Oval project since declaring the ground was the club’s number one option for 2009 last month. “I needed to make sure we had alternate arrangements,” he said.
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