Officers a leap ahead of councillors on parks

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

The Town Council’s Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton, would appear to have been ‘freelancing’ (as Tony Abbott would put it) when he released earlier this month the 2004 draft report on council’s parks. When the issue of public consultation was raised in last night’s council meeting, Mayor Damien Ryan said it was Mr Buxton’s decision to present the report, he didn’t understand why he had done so and looked forward to finding out. Mr Buxton was not at the meeting to be asked.

 

Two members of the public asked questions about parks at the head of the meeting. Hal Duell wanted to be assured, for the sake of The Gap’s children, that decisions about parks in what is Alice’s most “park-poor” area would not be taken simply on the basis of a “cost-benefit analysis” . He also wanted to know whether council had the right to sell any parks, if they are the owned by the community.

 

Dalton Dupuy wanted to know what the plans for consolidation and redevelopment of Oleander Park  might be and asked whether council could “reduce the amenity” of someone living next door to a park (he lives next door to Oleander). The 2004 report recommended reducing the size of this park.

 

Mayor Ryan took the questions on notice but said there had been no discussion of this council selling parks, a point he repeated when the issue came up later in the meeting. Nonetheless, as pointed out previously by the Alice Springs News Online, Councillor Geoff Booth’s five point motion, that has been quietly progressing through the committee process, does include as point “D” that council “forecast savings on maintenance as a result of reducing the number of insignificant land [parcels] currently zoned as parks”.

 

The issues have been deferred pending clarification with Mr Buxton, who apart from releasing the 2004 report – previously considered and rejected by council and never released – also introduced a particular focus on Ashwin and Finlayson Parks. His “officer recommendation” asked for council to provide direction on the “redevelopment” of these parks. In the 2004 report their recommended “redevelopment” involved upgrading them, not disposing of them, as they were surrounded by “vocal residents”.

 

Cr Eli Melky pressed the point on these parks, wanting to know if council had ever discussed them in any way shape or form.

CEO Rex Mooney said there had been discussion in the past about the two parks and “the officer” (Mr Buxton and / or Works manager Scott Allen) felt it could be considered by council again.

 

Cr Jade Kudrenko wanted to be assured that there would be community consultation, which is when Mayor Ryan’ made his point about the director’s decision.

 

Cr Chansey Paech wanted the public gallery to know that he wouldn’t support selling off parks, and suggested nor would any other councillor, which would seem to be a misreading of at least Cr Booth’s and Cr Melky’s possible intentions. Cr Melky immediately clarified that he looked forward to seeing the evidence, having the discussion and consultation before making his decision.

 

Cr Booth meanwhile is looking forward to his tete-a-tete on the issues with Mr Buxton and Mr Allen when they return in 10 to 12 days’ time.

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  1. Hal Duell
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 7:06 am

    I hope that if Mr Buxton is responsible for releasing the 2004 Draft Urban Open Space Assets Report, he comes in for a commendation, not a condemnation.
    Consider the wealth of information it contains relating to how Council views the parklands in Alice Springs and their responsibility for them. None of that information needs to be kept secret. There is far too much of that in Council’s dealings with the rest of us.
    I have long suspected that that reliance on confidentiality is, more than anything else, a method of maintaining unaccountable executive control over the workings of what is our third tier of elected government. The bureaucrats are not the bosses, although I suspect they might think otherwise.
    Far better to get these reports out into the public realm, especially after they have been considered and either adopted or, as is the case here, rejected. Then we can all have a read and, where clearly called for, offer corrections. Such as referring to Walmulla Park as being of no use and of no possible use when it is used all the time.
    It is also instructive to know that Ashwin and Finlayson parks were to be redeveloped, not sold, and that the public space within each was to be consolidated, not shrunk to a fraction of what each was. This terminology was considered advisable so as not to alarm the near-by residents who were known to be vocal. Kept secret, such thinking can only be considered sneaky.
    I think something similar was (is?) considered for Oleander Park, a (re)development clearly not to the liking of some of its more vocal neighbours.
    It is also instructive to learn that some “parks” are hilltops or drains or blocks with a sacred site on them. Clearly Council can do little with such blocks in the way of offering a viable public park, and perhaps they could be sold or otherwise taken off Council’s books.
    And perhaps Council can be more vigilant in the future to ensure developers don’t off-load unusable blocks when complying with their obligations to provide open space in any new development.
    We have a right to know these things, to know in advance what Council is considering. Public consultation is all well and good, but there is no obligation that I am aware of compelling Council to take more than a passing glance at what may come out of any such consultation.
    If Council were to bite the bullet, and this current Council might just be the one to do this, and allow us the electorate greater access into their deliberations, they just might find more support and more understanding and more respect for what they are doing.
    Governments across Australia and the world are on the nose these days, and a lack of trust lies at the heart of that. We elect them to act for us, not to lecture us from behind a curtain of confidentiality.

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