Opinion by ANDREW WOODHOUSE
Woollahra Council’s long running and controversial proposal for skateboard facilities in Rushcutters Bay Park has hit a major speed hump. The NSW Heritage Office’s Recommendation Committee has recommended the park be state heritage listed, its highest protective listing.
This means no development can occur without the Heritage Office’s approval. Its listing becomes L-A-W.
The devil is in the detail. Importantly, the key features of the detailed listing note that: “The park’s key characteristic is its open spaces … Informal landscaped open areas of grass and various wide paved paths are used for strolling, jogging, picnicking and sight-seeing.
“The open spaces are important because they still retain their 19th century uses for passive recreation using non-intrusive constructions.
“The open spaces on the Woollahra side have high levels of social significance and are valued for their uses in such a dense urban area. They represent the 19th century concept of healthy outdoor pursuits and need for passive recreations and open spaces in cities.
“It is rare as a large scaled inner-city park close to Sydney and as one of the last remaining major areas of open space in inner eastern Sydney suburbs. There are few other parks in NSW of such grand scale and engineering scope with large open spaces still relatively intact.
“Areas of Open [not built] spaces are not to be reduced. No built structures are to be constructed which obstruct unhindered access to all current open spaces …”.
By not allowing open spaces to be reduced and by prohibiting any built structures which obstruct unhindered access the only way council’s dream can be fulfilled is by excavating a sub-terranean skatepark with no above ground access – clearly an impossibility.
The other alternative is to do what neighbours have suggested and utilise one of the other nine available sites or the Moore Park Entertainment Centre or, why not build their own undercover skateboard park somewhere?
In any event, the park should remain open space, a win for the community.
Former Prime Minister and local park dog walker, Malcolm Turnbull, has said “Rushcutters Bay is a fantastic open space that is used not only by local residents, but also the entire Wentworth area. It is a treasured park in an increasingly urban area that is densely populated … Access is a key part of local live-ability and quality of life, and I believe it would be best kept as open green space that can be used by everyone in the community.”
Dave Sharma MP, current Federal Member for Wentworth, has said, “I welcomed the Interim Heritage Order that was placed on the site in February 2019, and 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.”
Sharma was as referring to Councillor Anthony Marano’s death wish when he said objectors will all be dead in ten years anyway. That their views don’t count.
And Gabrielle Upton MP, state Member for Vaucluse, has lodged a substantial petition in state parliament objecting to council’s proposal.
Mayor Marano replaced
Meanwhile, back at Woollahra Council, the former be-jewelled, pro-skateboard mayor, Peter Cavanagh, was not elected Mayor again with Councillor Marano as his deputy. Their political hopes were dashed.
Councillor Susan Wynne is the new Mayor and Councillor Shields is her deputy. This might bring more democracy and dignity to council. She has said “I believe with strong financial management we can plan for a future that protects what we love most about Woollahra – our history and heritage, our beautiful natural environment …”.
Dixie Coulton, former Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney Council and a long-time local park dog walker has said: “It is incorrect to claim some residents are hostile to skateboarding. They welcome sport but Woollahra Council’s scheme for Rushcutters Bay Park has three problems: location, location, location. This park doesn’t belong to them. We belong to it.
“The detailed design is still not on public exhibition and has no heritage impact report, hydro-engineer’s report or realistic costings.
There are various other, more suitable, sites nearby.
Why destroy one of the last vestiges of open space in this heritage park used by thousands of locals of all ages since 1878? Council should seek another location.”
So, the balance of power has shifted. The committee recommendation now goes on public exhibition for 21 days before being ticked off by the Minister, Don Harwin MLC.