BY JOHN MOYLE
Last Monday night’s Woollahra Council meeting was one of the most contentious for some time, drawing battle lines between young and old residents as a vote to place a skate park in Rushcutters Bay Park passed unanimously.
“It was already a done deal before we got there,” Andrew Woodhouse, president, Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage and Residents’ Society said.
“They heard us, but they didn’t listen, they simply pushed the proposal through and now it goes before an environmental study and comes back before Council.”
Mr Woodhouse was representing residents of Potts Point and Kings Cross who were joined by residents of and representatives from the Darling Point Society. On the other side were an enthusiastic gallery of youths and the Woollahra councillors.
The vote was the culmination of a six year battle to prevent Woollahra Council installing a skate park in Rushcutters Bay Park. The idea was defeated last year but brought back after concerted lobbying by a number of high profile councillors and a petition that had circulated local schools.
“We’ve had a demographic boom of young kids in Paddington and the thing we need to address here is the lack of facilities for kids in the 8-14 year group,” Matthew Robertson, Greens, Woollahra Council said.
A local schoolboy had submitted a 115 signature petition to Council last May in favour of the facility, and then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull weighed in against, citing noise as an issue.
A petition opposing the project gathered 270 signatures.
“I am the proposer of this proposal and started working on it six years ago with Sarah Riland who represented a collective of kids in the age bracket,” Cr Matthew Robertson said.
“I wrote the first motion that went to Council and called for a report and then after the proposal was defeated last year I revived the issue that was calling for better siting within Rushcutters Bay Park.”
The original plan was to locate the skate park closer to the Rushcutters Bay seawall and near the water channel that acts as the divider between the Woollahra Council and City of Sydney jurisdictions.
“The decision over a skateboarding facility in Rushcutters Bay Park is one for Woollahra Council to determine in consultation with their residents,” Spokesperson, City of Sydney said.
“Woollahra Council would also be responsible for managing any future facilities and the City of Sydney will monitor and will address any issues that affect our residents.”
Locals against the skate park say that they are not against the skaters, just the location of the proposed park.
Charlotte Feldman of the Darling Point Society said “They [Woollahra Council] are going against the directives of the Greater Sydney Commission where Council have signed off on their green space policy.
Ms Feldman referred to The Metropolitan Greenspace Program (MGP) which states “The MGP supports local councils in Greater Sydney and the Central Coast to improve regional open space by co-funding projects that enhance open spaces, parks, bushland, natural areas, waterway corridors and tree-lined streetscapes”.
Rushcutters Bay Park is a six hectare harbourside reserve which was first put aside in 1878. It is already used for cricket, soccer, rugby, jogging and exercise.
“A park may be open space, have conservation areas and public domain areas and these different functions may or may not work together, or they may indeed come into direct conflict,” said Peter Annand, urban designer.
The conflict in Rushcutters now focuses on a line of old fig trees in the park near New South Head Road.
Four of these fig trees will be impacted by the skate park’s new location and have already been the point of contention in two aborist’s reports, one commissioned by the Darling Point Society and the other by Council.
“Andrew Simpson inspected the project site, identified all trees and provided information on required tree protection zones,” Woollahra Council’s finance and community report said.
However Ms Feldman claimed “Our aborist was able to get the Council’s aborist to admit that there was going to be an encroachment on the trees’ roots”. The Council also presented a 20 page acoustic report that does not guarantee that the project will have a minimal impact on locals or the area.
It states “this criterion does not guarantee the inaudibility of the skateboard impact noise during time of low to moderate impact noise”.
The report went on to say that decibels as high as 66dB will be produced from the site but that the acceptable noise criteria was 45-60 dB as issued by the NSW Road Policy Traffic.
The Vibe Hotel is located 60 metres from the proposed skate park and opponents are claiming that adverse impacts have not been adequately analysed or mitigated.
Cr Robertson said that alternative sites which had been looked at in Paddington and Trumper Park weren’t suitable.
The next step will be Council undertaking a Review of Environmental Factors, which is a fine-tuning process.
Cr Robertson said once that had been undertaken “there will be a tender process and construction process” and that he expects the park to be open next year.
Meanwhile, Andrew Woodhouse vows to fight on.