BY ISOBEL RUSHE
The Inner West Council is in limbo after an award-winning master plan for Callan Park was rejected by the NSW State Government late last month.
The crucial need for a Master Plan for Callan Park arose after the site ceased being used as a psychiatric hospital, with the last remaining patients transferred to Concord Hospital in April 2008.
Widespread discussion with Leichhardt Council, community and user groups, and interested residents in 2010-11 has resulted in a vision for the park to be used as a wellness sanctuary, encompassing health, community and educational facilities.
The Government’s refusal to rule out amending the existing Callan Park Act heightens concerns that plans are being prepared to privatize parts of the former Colonial-era hospital.
Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne said the park’s future is more uncertain than ever now that the Master Plan has been rejected.
“More than six years after the former Leichhardt Council submitted the comprehensive Callan Park Master Plan, the NSW State Government is refusing to adopt and implement that Plan. Callan Park is now facing demolition through neglect,” he said.
“The longer the site is left without active management, the further the buildings decay, making restoration and repurposing of the buildings costlier by the day,”
“The State Government has also blocked the Inner West Council’s efforts to upgrade sporting grounds and deliver a new skate park facility, despite the fact that Council has fully allocated funds for these projects,” he said.
Public debate is at an all-time high with conservationists worried about the occupation of the historic site.
The Friends of Callan Park (FOCP), a Callan Park community-run conservationist group, have written many letters to the NSW State Government about their concerns that the parkland may be destroyed and converted into a residential living area.
The group’s heavy involvement with the redevelopment of the park has gained them a lot of attention amongst council members and state government officials.
FOCP’s priorities for Callan Park are: to Defend the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act, 2002; Return much-needed mental health services to the site: and Protect and conserve existing open space at Callan Park for the benefit of the whole community.
FOCP managed to receive a response about the park’s plans from Naomi Stephens, Acting Executive Director of Park Programs, National Parks and Wildlife Service, which was written on behalf of the Premier, the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP.
The Government’s Response said: “I refer to your correspondence to the Premier, the Hon Gladys Berejiklian MP, the minister for heritage, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, and various other ministers about the Friends’ core priorities for Callan Park and Broughton Hall. Please accept this as a response to all correspondence.
“The NSW Government has committed to ensuring the management of Callan Park continues to provide valuable open space and recreation opportunities for communities in Sydney’s inner west, while also conserving the significant heritage building on the site, as a demonstration of this commitment Minister Upton has now ruled out any commercial development in Callan Park, including residential development.”
President of Friends of Callan Park, Hall Greenland, said that this does not mean that the park is safe from destruction. “Unless the government allocate fundings to implement some type of plan, it may just be a pipe dream.”
Mr Greenland is afraid that if the council can’t provide detailed costings for the work that needs to be done at the park, the government will turn a blind eye.
“We’d really like the council to think about costings; without costings the government will brush this aside and everything we have done will be for nothing.” He said.
Callan Park is also home to Sydney’s College of the Arts, a successful art facility and part of the University of Sydney’s extended campus. The School announced its upcoming closure in early 2015 due to the rezoning of the park, but have since continued teaching.
Sydney College of the Arts is scheduled to move locations gradually over the next year terminating the ability for new students to commence study at the school.
More than 350 students are enrolled in Sydney University’s visual arts programs, including 206 undergraduates. 2017 was the first year in the school’s history that no new art students were accepted to study at the Rozelle campus due to its upcoming closure.
The University’s latest proposal is to move the art school to the Old Teacher’s College, located on its Camperdown campus, and occupy nearby buildings if required. The relocation will not be complete until early 2019.
Mayor Darcy Byrne highlighted the issue with the college moving, stating the vacant block could lead to further neglect at the park.
“Gabrielle Upton says she won’t be approving residential development there, yet she has made no commitment at all to reversing the demolition by neglect that has occurred across the park for the last six years.
“With Sydney University vacating the Kirkbride complex, those beautiful sandstone buildings are about to become abandoned like dozens of others the Government has left to rot.”
The Inner West Council have not yet issued a press release that the Callan Park Master Plan has been rejected, because they are still working to try to get it adopted.
We wait eagerly to see what they will do with the Park and hope that there is funding granted to save the park from demolition.