By Andrew Woodhouse
The farce known as Woollahra Council’s Skateboard Park project in Rushcuttters Bay Park has taken longer than Wagner’s Ring Cycle to reach a conclusion.
After eight years, council has delivered only divisiveness.
The Paddington school boys who mooted the original skateboard idea now have no use for it because they have left school.
Council initially suggested a harbourside location in Rushcutters Bay Park which it rightly rejected. Its second choice was a location in the same park.
The skateboard park is meant for 8-14 year-olds only, but has no fence, no enforceable time-use limits, no car parking for parents or age compliance controls or enforceable helmet laws.
No safety report exists.
Shawn Little, Kidsafe Playground Advisory Unit officer, says, “Fencing along a Roads and Maritime Services road needs to meet RMS design rules.”
Located alongside the six-lane New South Head Road, the skate park is obviously a fatality waiting to happen.
The NSW Police Force have not given their unequivocal support.
Council’s own community survey of local residents showed 94 residents (66%) against and 56 (34%) in favour.
Council hasn’t undertaken a proper study of other potential sites for its excessive $1.1 million, 1,225 square metre project, which is bigger than an Olympic pool.
Eight other sites are feasible, according to a recent geographical survey by locals. All were ignored or wrongly rejected, locals say.
And the true cost is unknown.
Maintenance and equipment replacement costs are not factored in. The impost on ratepayers makes it financially unviable.
Three Woollahra Councillors brought council’s original decision of 2016 back to the table but an anomaly allowed it to be passed on to a smaller finance committee of only eight out of the fifteen councillors. This isn’t democratic enough, say locals.
The council’s decision to appoint tenders by February 2019 should be urgently reviewed.
Council refuses to heritage-list its eastern side of the park to mirror Sydney Council’s western side listing, saying it doesn’t know when the heritage-listing might even be considered.
A professional heritage consultant says “a heritage study for the whole site would conclude that the eastern side of the park has heritage significance”.
Locals are adamant. They don’t object to a skateboard park, per se. Their three main problems are location, location, location.
Ms Charlotte Feldman, President, Darling Point Society, says “public open space should be treasured not trashed”.
Former Mayor Andrew Petrie said, “Rushcutters Bay is already one of the most overused parks in the municipality.”
Over two thousand locals, including the nearby Vibe Hotel, have now raised concerns in objections and petitions about loss of open spaces.
Cr Matthew Robertson (Greens) says the new location won’t require the removal of trees or “excessive” green space.
“You certainly wouldn’t see my name on (this proposal) if that was the case,” he said, but he is contradicted by an independent arborist’s report that states, ”the proposal, beyond any doubt, has a negative impact upon four trees. We owe [it] to … future generations to … protect these trees”.
Open space will be excessively reduced by the proposal.
The Total Environment Centre says, “the proposal to construct a skateboard park in Rushcutters Bay … risk[s] the health of … valuable, mature trees; and we seek council’s intervention to ensure the proposal is dropped”.
Additionally, the native habitat of our Sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) is threatened.
A council survey lists Centennial Park opposite the six-lane Oxford Street as a possibility for a site.
Centennial Park Executive Director, Ms Kim Ellis, says, “The Centennial Park Master Plan … does feature a proposal for a skate facility in the northeast corner of Centennial Park in the vicinity of Woollahra reservoir”.
Council’s own acoustic report says it can’t guarantee there will be no adverse noise impacts. However, it took only one measurement at 9:15am for 15 minutes early on Sunday morning, hardly a comprehensive survey. Even this noted that noise would be over 65 decibels: “annoyingly loud”.
Council refuses to even lodge a development application (DA) for this open-cut excavation.
Preliminary legal advice says a DA is required since its own Plan of Management (PoM) is breached.
The PoM is clear: the park’s prime purpose includes open spaces, minimising conflicts between park users, preserving its ambience and satisfying the Crown Lands Act provisions for uses to be compatible with the definition of “public recreation” ie. “informal, passive recreational, low-key sporting, social and cultural activities”
A formal, permanent, active, high-exposure skateboard park would therefore be illegal.
Council is refusing public access to its Environment Report. It intends to seek tenders and start work in February/March 2019.
Its Mayor, Peter Cavanagh, said “It’s a done deal”, even before council had formally considered the second site.
Was the issue predetermined behind closed doors?
Council is breaching the Local Government Act sections 8A(1)(d) and (2) in not applying “the … planning framework … to achieve … continuous improvements” and in not considering “the long term and cumulative effects of its actions on future generations”.
And where are those teenagers who, eight years ago, requested a skateboard park? They’re all grown up.
Why can’t council do the same?