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A quick look at a street directory of the Leichhardt Municipality reveals the unequal distribution of parks across its six suburbs. Some suburbs have a well-distributed range of parks, both large and small, while other sections of the Local Government Area have almost none. In particular, densely-populated southern Annandale (between Booth Street and Parramatta Road) has been shortchanged when it comes to local parks. Despite a decade of steadily-increasing densities behind us, the state government plans to push those rates even higher, and coupled with an increasing birth rate, the expansion of parks in south Annandale is well overdue.

But perhaps unusually, there is an easy option to expand the open space. The inequity is addressed, at least on paper, in Council’s plan to expand parkland by acquiring property along Johnston’s Creek. This presently includes a warehouse, a strip of land to link along the creek, and the largest piece, an unused block owned by Sydney Water.

The Sydney Water land is the key. As public land, it should be easy to arrange for it to go to Council. Several years ago residents brokered a meeting between Council and Sydney Water to promote transfer of the land. Both agreed in principle to an initial lease or license to Council, with a handover to be completed later. This has stalled in the bureaucracies over responsibility for decontamination of the site. Sydney Water’s response is a locked gate, blocking what was once open to all and used by locals. Council has an eye to the cost. And in the background is the stand-off over the contamination at Callan Park. Council does not want to be saddled with the precedent in Annandale of taking on decontamination costs for state government land.

Meanwhile, in response to a push by residents concerned by the effects of several residential developments, Council built a small park in Taylor Street at the midpoint of the planned parks. This well-used and -appreciated little park only occupies about a third of the space allocated within Taylor and Chester Streets alone. It is well-situated to be the nucleus of a much bigger park.

Map

Successive councils and mayors have looked at the issues, commissioned reports and expressed support in council resolutions. But a result seems as far off as ever.

Councillor Lyndal Howison is supportive of the efforts. “I’d like to see our Council do more to deliver new open space,” she said. “We should get back to basics – parks are a core council responsibility. What is frustrating in this case is that the land is there, just waiting to be converted to a significant and much-needed park.”

Council cancelled its $200,000 cycle path project along Johnston’s Creek, due to start in early 2008, when it was realised the path would effectively be a dead end, lacking links over or under Booth Street to Hogan Park and beyond. This money would have contributed to expanded parks and links, including the strip along Johnston’s Creek – billed as park, but in fact contaminated wasteland.

Council argues it does not want to spend until all the land is secured and it will not take on extra land earmarked for parks unless it has money allocated in its budget for preparation and maintenance. But residents fear this is an endless loop: Council won’t acquire the land until it gets the funds for decontamination, development and maintenance, and most state government grant money for open space requires councils to own or control the land!

Residents are calling on Leichhardt Council and the state government to immediately begin a strong program to ensure this deadlock is broken and the public parkland is secured for future generations. It’s time Council matched encouraging words with action.

by Ian Cranwell