The Greens and neighbourhood activists are hindering the prospects of the Callan Park Master Plan by battling Leichhardt Council instead of the State Government, Mayor Darcy Byrne has said.
In an interview with The Inner West Independent, Mr Byrne implored his opponents to “stop hectoring me for political purposes and get on board with the fight”. The Master Plan has been before the Planning Department for more than 18 months and the Mayor believes there is “no evidence that it will be adopted”.
He said the Minister for Planning, Brad Hazzard, had no imperative to take Callan Park seriously while local interests were consumed by infighting.
“Friends of Callan Park are inclement for their lack of pragmatism, and it is well known by the state government and everybody else that people like [Greens candidate for Grayndler] Hall Greenland would rather continue a political campaign than compromise in any way – a significant deterrent to the planning minister engaging in the issue,” said Mr Byrne.
The Mayor said the groups were running a “Trotskyite political campaign” and had failed to take a sensible, respectful or productive approach to the issue.
Divisions deepened after an ordinary meeting of Council last Tuesday saw grievances aired from the public gallery related to a motion that reaffirmed Council’s support for sports fields in the park.
A mayoral directive in October amended the Callan Park Master Plan to include multi-purpose sports fields in an area previously designated as open space. Minutes of the Heritage Committee later ratified by Council conflicted with that decision, leading to the matter reappearing before Council last week.
Former independent Councillor and chair of the Heritage Committee, John Stamolis, said the original mayoral minute had been a breach of due process. He described last week’s 6-5 vote to maintain it as “a dreadfully weak outcome”.
“Sure the community wants more ovals, but do they agree to tearing up the master plan to achieve that?” said Mr Stamolis. “If people want to say to me that an oval is an open space, then I defy them to plant a tree on it.”
Some gallery members accused the Council of walking away from mental health commitments on the site, although the amended Master Plan still allows for both sports and health facilities.
The Mayor said that was a false dichotomy, and accused Friends of Callan Park of viewing all positive developments in Callan Park as undermining the plan to return the mental health hospital.
“It’s been gone for many years and it’s never returning,” he said. “It would be useful if the Greens stop trying to refight a battle that they’ve lost over whether kids can play sport in Callan Park.”
Mr Greenland said Mr Byrne’s concerns were “a figment of his imagination”.
“It would help if the Mayor stopped playing politival games and joined FOCP and the rest of the community in trying to get the Master Plan adopted,” he said. “He’s spent most of his time trying to get the Master Plan amended.”
Green groups say they are getting on fighting for the Master Plan to be approved, and will hold a rally in Callan Park on August 3.
Both Mr Greenland and Mr Stamolis believe the amendments will never come to fruition. Mr Stamolis said the Mayor’s opponents will continue to register their displeasure at a Council level, but had other options for engaging the Planning Department and Minister Brad Hazzard directly.
In a bid to renew momentum for the Master Plan, the Mayor also stated his support for changing the Callan Park Act to allow commercial activity on the site. Mr Byrne said it was problematic that the legislation prevents a trust from running cafes, restaurants and other profit-making ventures which could raise revenue and attract visitors to the park.
The highly-prescriptive Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002 prohibits the sort of commercial ventures that have been used in places such as Centennial Park in Paddington.
It would also rule out a lease for activity relating to the film industry. In June The Inner West Independent revealed that Gordon Andersen, a film unit manager who runs a production facility from the disused Callan 201 building, had approached the State Government with the intention of expanding operations on the site.
The Callan Park Master Plan is awaiting adoption, rejection or modification by the department, a decision which may ultimately rest with Mr Hazzard.
“He [Mr Hazzard] has had the Master Plan for a while now – if he thinks that [the ban on commercial activity] is an obstacle he needs to take that to cabinet,” said Mr Byrne. “I’m ready to act in a pragmatic way and to compromise to make sure that we start getting something.”
But Mr Greenland felt commercial activities were not appropriate for the site.
“That’s a dangerous route to go down if you start to allow commercial activities in open space,” he said. Mr Greenland noted the Act allows non-profit activities to take place in the park.
A spokeswoman for Mr Hazzard said: “The NSW Government is currently considering an independent review of the Callan Park Master Plan and will make a decision in due course.”