Opinion: By ANDREW WOODHOUSE
After six years Woollahra Council is still no closer to finding a location for its $1.1 million skateboard structure for youngsters aged 5-12. The NSW Heritage Office intervened to impose an Interim Heritage Order over the proposed Rushcutters Bay site, effective from 25th January this year. The Order lasts twelve months and states that “the park is likely to be of local or state heritage significance”. It restricts excavation, alterations and demolition.
However, Woollahra Council is now asking the Minister for Heritage, Don Harwin MLC, to lift the Order.
The Liberal Party-dominated council, in its decision of 8th July, decided that council will “write to the Minister … requesting the Interim Heritage Order be lifted on the grounds that the heritage impact of the proposed Youth Recreation Facility in Rushcutters Bay Park will be addressed in the Review of Environmental Factors under Part 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.”
The decision was unanimous. Notable absentees were Mayor, Peter Cavanagh, who was overseas in London, and Councillor Susan Wynne. It seems council intends to issue its plans, Heritage Impact Statement, Engineer’s report and Social Impact Statement as part of its Review after, not before, it has decided to proceed.
Surely this is a procedural anomaly?
Their meeting was not notified to objectors.
Many in the community are shocked and disappointed by the council’s recalcitrance. They believe it comes as a result of six months of negotiation with Heritage Office, which didn’t acquiesce to council’s wishes for approval.
So, council’s recent decision is a last-ditch attempt to get they want, where they want it, when they want it.
They forget that this park does not belong to them, we belong to it.
John Walton, long-time staunch supporter of the Liberal Party, is not happy. He says “council’s latest decision is totally inappropriate. It seems to be an attempt to override the previous decision of the Heritage Office. The current Order is a temporary measure still in force until their heritage assessment is complete. Council’s decision is therefore premature and misconceived.”
But Councillor Anthony Morano, a long-time proponent of the scheme, has sledged objectors saying: “Things have changed since the 19th century with ladies walking with their parasols … We need to get this Order lifted. [Objectors are] old people with nothing else to do with their time … who will be dead in ten years”. In his email of 21st July 2019, Morano claims: “The Darling Point Society … have an obsessive dislike to any change … anywhere.”
Perhaps he needs to take a Bex and have a good lie down.
Woollahra Council’s General Manager, Gary James, is now formally investigating Cr Morano’s slurs after receiving a complaint of breaches of the council’s own Code of Conduct.
Charlotte Feldman, President of Darling Point Society for ten years and park user for twenty years, said they do not just oppose everything. They consider all issues on their merits and welcomed council’s decision to heritage-list the park’s harbour sea wall, for example.
She said council’s decision last week was a two-fingered salute to its community.
Ageist, prejudiced and unproductive
Luke Whitington, Elizabeth Bay resident, is underwhelmed. His family has had links to the Liberal Party for four generations. He says Cr Anthony Morano demeans himself and all other councillors by his remarks. His comments are “ageist, prejudiced and unproductive. I cannot fathom how such an uncouth person has managed to become a Liberal Party representative. He demeans other Liberal Party members and the residents of Darling point, Rushcutters Bay, Elizabeth Bay, Paddington and Potts Point. He has no place in a party that aspires to civil grace and democratic tolerance.”
Whitington agrees with Dave Sharma, Federal Member for Wentworth. Mr Sharma said in his email to constituents of 22nd July: “I welcomed the Interim Heritage Order that was placed on the site … I expressed the view at the time that better locations for the skate park could be found.
“That remains my view, and I have conveyed this to Woollahra Councillors and will continue to urge them to pay heed to legitimate community concerns about this project. Let me also take the opportunity to condemn remarks attributed to one councillor that seemed to denigrate and discount the legitimate concerns of local residents regarding this project.”
Dixe Coulton, parkside resident for over twenty years and former Deputy Lord Mayor, City of Sydney Council, said the council’s decision is outrageous and shows abject contempt for others. “It’s indicative of how council treats the community with scorn,” she said.
This angst-ridden issue has more twists than a pretzel.
So, to fulfil Anthony Morano’s deathwish, I’ve added a codicil to my Will requesting my ashes be scattered all over the heritage-listed park’s open green spaces.