By Michael Hitch
After six years of debate, dispute and foiled plans, the Inner West Council has finally committed to build a skate park in Leichhardt.
Council will proceed to undertake community engagement for the development of the skate park near Leichhardt Oval, after years of previously unsuccessful attempts to develop the facility in Rozelle.
Four separate sites in Callan Park were originally considered for the development, but due to heritage infringements and a lack of surveillance, were eventually discarded.
Independent Councillor, John Stamolis welcomed the announcement and said that a commitment to a different location was long overdue.
“Council have now finally made a decision to deliver a skate park for the people and that commitment has finally been made after more than six years,” he said.
“We’ve exhausted every opportunity in Callan Park and it is an area of state significance. It is an area of tremendous heritage significance and we just continued to eye off location after location after location.
“It’s like going to the Botanic Gardens and saying, ‘surely they could put a basketball court in there’…well no, they can’t because it’s called an area of state significance, an area of great heritage.
Cr Stamolis continued “We were continuing to drag skate board users through this unnecessary process knowing the whole time it was going to have to jump these big hurdles…and that’s why it took six years.
“It serves to make interesting election brochures and it’s easy to campaign on but no, we should’ve stopped pretty well after the first attempt and said right, we understand, but we didn’t stop.”
The newly proposed site is adjacent to Leichhardt Oval number three, which sits near the Aquatic Centre, the Glover Street fields and the Rowing Club.
While the Leichhardt Oval site is situated closer to other community spaces and does not share the same heritage obstacles as the previous Callan Park locations, the limited public transport to and from the area has been flagged as a potential issue.
It is expected that many of the park’s users will be reliant on public transport due to their age as well as their need to transport objects such as bikes and skateboards.
Independent Councillor, Pauline Lockie said that she was happy to hear that Council was moving away from the complicated and divisive Callan Park sites but warned that open spaces such as Callan Park will eventually disappear.
“The Callan Park location always created a real split between people who wanted to see the skate park built and the people who wanted to keep it as quite a passive space,” she said.
“Callan Park is already complicated enough with state significance, it is really important and really one of two significant open spaces that we’ve got in the Inner West.
“So, it is important to preserve the values there but we’re going to see more and more of this as our population continues to grow in the Inner West.”
Cr Lockie said in the future there would be a lot of competition for the very few open areas of green space left and that the community would have to find a way to balance the need for recreational space as well as open areas.
“We’re far behind in providing open space and green space that is actually needed in the area which puts into stark perspective why we have these kinds of clashes whenever something like this is proposed.”
Cr Lockie said determining the accessibility of the new site through community consultations would be key to determining its effectiveness.
“It’s very early stages but the next step is to actually go through that process of consulting the community, developing plans for how it [the skate park] would work on that site,” she said.
“One of the bigger issues that will be closely looked into is how accessible is that area going to be? It’s not close to any train stations, it’s further away from the main roads where the buses would come in…but then again these are not impossible things to get over.”
Trent Evans, one of the founders of the Sydney Skateboard Association said that accessibility is paramount when developing and constructing a skate park facility.
“A good space will have shade, some sort of water facility, it’ll have ramps and objects that are good for beginners, good for intermediate and really good for all ages and groups,” he said.
“It’ll have good public transport as well, so it can cater to everyone, from a three-year old to a sixty-year-old.”
Cr Stamolis said that while accessibility to the oval via public transport was a, the current accessibility of the area would be sufficient for the meantime and that skate park users would have to make do, potentially walking a few blocks to the facility from the nearest bus stop.
“I’m not going to refute that a high percentage of people will be using transport to get there [but] it’s still a highly used area by sports users, rowing clubs, the aquatic centre.
“The kids already get to the sports themselves down in those locations without parents, particularly during school holidays.”