Inner West Independent

Callan park cash boost a “historic achievement”

The Kirkbride precinct at Callan Park now has round the clock security to protect it from vandalism. Photo: supplied

By ALLISON HORE

Callan Park advocates are celebrating the announcement of a further $4 million in funding for park upgrades which the NSW Government hope will transform the park into “one of the true jewels in Sydney’s crown.”

The funding announcement comes as the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment released their final Callan Park Landscape Structure Plan (LSP) which they say brings a continuous green link connecting the Sydney Harbour foreshore one step closer.

In the LSP the NSW government lays out an ambitious vision for the future of the once neglected Lilyfield park which has faced threat from vandals and redevelopment under both Labor and Liberal governments.

“Callan Park will be an iconic urban park,” they say.

“A park with a mosaic of gardens, landscapes and recreation opportunities for Sydney-siders to explore. It will celebrate and treasure its unique heritage and position on the waterfront.”

The first priorities of the LSP are creating more green space along the park’s waterfront and creating a network of pathways to make the 60-hectare park more accessible and easier to navigate. 

In July last year the NSW Government announced $10 million in additional funding would be committed to the “forgotten” and “neglected” Callan park. The funding came as part of the NSW Government’s plan to bring together the management of all of Sydney’s parks into one super-agency, the Greater Sydney Parklands (GSP). 

But this week, Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes announced an extra $4 million would be directed into the Callan Park makeover which he said is a “significant milestone” for the new public parklands authority. 

“Greater Sydney Parklands is the first body to have a Metropolitan-wide focus on the city’s green spaces, and these plans for Callan Park are the first step in our vision to connect Sydney’s stunning harbour foreshore with public parks and green links,” Mr. Stokes said.

Callan Park was the first park identified by the GSP as in need of urgent need of restorative work.

Mr. Stokes said upcoming works in the park, which he called one of the city’s “great forgotten jewels”, will include the Bay Run being fully pedestrianised and upgraded, the removal of two dilapidated buildings, new picnic areas, parks, accessible amenities and the promotion of the area’s Indigenous cultural heritage.

“These works will see a tricky section of the Bay Run fixed, meaning pedestrians and cyclists will no longer have to weave around motorists looking for parking in a space that will make better use of its prime position on the foreshore,” explained Minister Stokes.

A decades long battle

Alongside Minister Stokes for the announcement of the funding boost and release of the final LSP was member for Balmain, Jamie Parker of the Greens. Mr. Stokes acknowledged Mr. Parker’s work over the years to save the park.

“I’d like to thank and acknowledge the Member for Balmain Jamie Parker, who has been a tireless advocate of Callan Park for more than 20 years,” he said.

Mr. Parker said while there is still “much to do” for the park’s future to be secured including the establishment of a trust, the funding injection and LSP are a “fantastic achievement”.

“On a personal note, after twenty years fighting Labor and Liberal government proposals for the sell-off, privatisation and development of Callan Park, this is a genuinely historic achievement,” said Mr. Parker.

Community group Friends of Callan Park, who have been advocating for the park’s protection since 1998, also welcomed the announcement and said it was “great news”.  

“After decades of campaigning- finally some action,” they said on Facebook.

Preserving heritage

From a grand estate in the 1830s to a public mental asylum in the 1850s, the Callan Park grounds hold their fair share of history. Callan Park’s Kirkbride precinct continued to be used for patients until the 1990s, when Sydney University’s college of the arts moved in.

Today there are over 130 buildings and structures throughout Callan Park, some of which have significant heritage value including the Garry Owen House, Broughton Hall and the Kirkbride Courtyard and Tower. 

The LSP recommends that “all buildings of moderate, high or exceptional heritage value” are retained and options for adaptive reuse and sensitive development of these buildings are investigated. One building known as “building 497”, will be revamped to house the Balmain and District Football Club.

24 buildings 10 ancillary structures deemed not of historical significance are earmarked for removal to help open up the park to the waterfront.

“There are buildings on the site that are of no heritage value, that scar the environment and separate the parkland from the harbour,” Mr. Stokes told the Sydney Morning Herald.

When asked about the future of the historic Kirkbride precinct which has remained unoccupied since the Sydney College of the Arts moved out in May last year, Mr. Parker said the building is currently undergoing a number of repairs and it now has 24 hour on site security to protect it from vandalism. 

He said an expression of interest process for a new tenant is underway.

As well as its historic significance, Callan Park is an important piece of green space for the Inner West, used by thousands of locals for both passive and active recreation activities. The local government area has the third highest population density in the state but the third lowest ratio of open space.

A development application for the first stage of improvements at the waterfront in Callan Park will be lodged in early March, says Minister Stokes. 

Work on site is expected to begin later this year.

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