By ALLISON HORE
In a move which the Inner West mayor called a “betrayal of local children and young people” a group of councillors tabled a motion which would delay the construction of a skate park in Leichhardt Park.
The motion to look for a “more suitable” location for the skate park was put forward by Councillors John Stamolis, Vittoria Raciti, Rochelle Porteous and Marghanita Da Cruz. If it passes through council, it will further delay the construction of a skate park which has been in council works for almost a decade.
The pitch for a skate park in the area was first submitted to the state government in November 2011 as part of the Callan Park master plan. The design was completed in 2014, and the NSW government gave the council the go-ahead to submit a development application a year later. However, the NSW heritage council refused to support the application, pushing the council back to square one.
Although another possible Callan Park location for the skate park was identified in 2017, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) made it clear they would not support the construction of a skate park in Callan Park at all.
It was in 2018 when the Inner West council decided to investigate the suitability of the skate park being built in the area adjacent to Leichhardt oval on the Bay run. The council voted unanimously to investigate this spot.
This led to the creation of a new draft Leichhardt Park Plan of Management in 2018 which referenced the skate park and preferred location for it. Initial public exhibition of the plan took place at the end of 2019, and a second round of public exhibition took place in September.
Corporate over community
But Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne, who is a member of Labour, says Greens councillors and independents have put corporate interests before the needs of young people in the community by moving to look for a more suitable skate park location.
“The Greens and Greens aligned Balmain Councillor John Stamolis have opposed every location for this skate park and they always will. They want the votes of local young people while failing to stand up for them when it counts,” Mayor Byrne said.
Mayor Byrne claims Greens councillors have “succumbed to lobbying” from a nearby high-end function center called Le Montage to kill the skate park, despite voting to approve it just two weeks ago.
The function center has found itself in the center of some controversies including hosting a talk by right-wing agitator Milo Yiannaopolous and the wedding of disgraced Sydney businessman Salim Mehajer who is currently serving prison time for electoral fraud.
“The plans for the skate park have been public for many months and Le Montage was notified along with the whole community,”
“After the approval of the skate park the owners have sought to lobby Councillors to kill the park off on the basis that they believe having a children’s facility in a public park nearby to their business will displease people attending functions there.”
Mature trees marked for removal
The motion to look for a more suitable location cited a number of concerns about the proposed spot. Concerns from La Montage, referenced in the motion, included the proximity of the park to the function center’s kitchen and delivery area, the hazard of a skate park so close to a licensed venue and the impact of removing trees on the venue’s ambience.
La Montage also expressed concern about security and “problem events or behaviour” related to the skate park.
Mr. Byrne said the concerns of the business should not be put before the needs of the community and the venue had nothing to be concerned about in terms of losing business as “parents bringing their kids to the new facility will in fact spend lots of money at the Le Montage cafe.”
“We must uphold the principle that no private business has a right of veto over children’s infrastructure in public parks,” he said.
But Independent councillor John Stamolis echoed the venue’s concerns about the removal of trees. He said the location of the skate park would lead to mature trees, which provide habitat for wildlife, being chipped and joked the chips “will be put to use as yet another flyer from Darcy Byrne.”
“These wonderful mature trees, which make this area look tremendous, are marked for removal,” he said.
“How can a Council, which tells its residents about tree protection, tree canopy and the urban heat island do such a thing.”
Hitting back at accusations that the Greens are against a skatepark in any form, Councillor Rochelle Porteous took to Facebook to “mythbust” some of the “misconceptions” the community has had about the decade-long debacle.
She said Greens councillors on the then-Leichhardt council had agreed on the original Callan Park location for the skatepark before the OEH denied it. She said she would like to see a skate park in the area but wants it to be one the whole community can get behind.
“We want to have a Skate Park that is well supported by the local community and the best way to do that is to listen to the community and fairly and openly consult with everyone,” she said.
But Greens Councillor Pauline Lockie, who was not a member of the pre-merge Leichhardt council, seemed unsure about why the move to delay the plan was being made. She said the loss of trees should be investigated, but she thought the plan of management was “ready to go” given the location was endorsed in 2018 and had gone through two rounds of public consultation.
She said although suggestions have been floated to move the skate park to the other end of the park or to Rozelle Parklands, she thought cutting this location would likely see the skatepark plan die entirely.
“I suspect axing this location is more likely to see the skate park not happen at all, as other locations in Leichhardt Park have been reviewed, and there’s already stiff competition for the limited space at Rozelle,” she said.
With all the delays to the skate park, Ms. Lockie questioned whether it was something the community wanted at all.
“Is a skate park wanted in this area at all? Should Council stop sinking your money into repeated attempts to find a suitable location?”