Skate trial in the Mall: council turns its back on the kids

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The Town Council’s brave new policy of enticing young people into Todd Mall came crashing down at the council meeting last night.

 

In the latest backflip on skateboarding, the trial approved two weeks ago to permit the sport for three months has been scuttled on the vote of all members except Councillor Chansey Paech, who initiated the trial and stuck by his guns. Cr Brendan Heenan was absent from the meeting but had opposed the trial at the earlier vote.

 

It is now proposed to build an amphitheater which can also be used for skating, in Snow Kenna Park, where the Henley on Todd is held.

 

But youth advocate and by-election candidate Matty Day, speaking outside the meeting, said the skaters will be pushed out of the CBD to a stretch of the river which is notorious for illegal drinking, antisocial behaviour and crime: “Would you send your child there,” he asked.

 

In discussion it was stated that the amphitheater could be funded from current council resources and be built within six months. Mayor Damien Ryan asked Director for Technical Services Greg Buxton if he would fancy a challenge of doing it in four months but Mr Buxton didn’t like his chances.

 

Mr Day said skate parks are designed by specialists who are very busy and the time frame is completely unrealistic.

 

The council reversed its decision after former alderman Murray Stewart, supported by a deputation of about 15, not including any young people, made an emotional appeal to drop the trial.

 

The decision also followed advice from council lawyer Chris Turner that the council’s insurer may not provide cover for skateboarding related accidents in the CBD if the activity were condoned.

 

In written advice Mr Turner explained that the by-law prohibiting skateboarding in the CBD suggests that the council had identified skateboarding as “a mischief for which it considered a sanction desirable and that mischief includes a foreseeable risk of personal injury and property damage arising from a mix of pedestrian and skateboarding traffic”.

 

He said by enabling the trial through “positively directing” rangers not to enforce the by-law “the council may well be held to be liable” if something went wrong.

 

The meeting discussed the clear solution to the problem – changing the by-law. Mr Turner pointed to sections of the Local Government Act which require 21 days notice to the public and a 75% of the vote.

 

Councillor Jade Kudrenko, an earlier supporter of the trial, said changing bylaws could not be done “under six months”.

 

And the meeting readily embraced these facts as reasons for not going ahead with the trial: as director of corporate and community services Craig Catchlove explained, the vote to change the by-law would fail if more than two councillors voted against. The trial had just squeaked through the requirement for 50% of the vote.

 

To have skaters in the Mall – clearly part of the intention of the $5m redevelopment of its northern end – would require a big shift in the councillors’ attitudes, and that just wasn’t going to happen.

 

In fact, whether or not skating should be permitted became the subject of nimble verbal gymnastics by Mr Buxton. The exchange went along these lines:

 

James Spears asked from the gallery why was skating furniture was built in the mall when it cannot be skated.

 

Buxton: The furniture was not specifically designed for a skatepark but designed to be robust enough for skating.

 

Spears: Why were ramps included?

 

Buxton: They fitted into the design of the Mall.

 

Cr Paech (attending from interstate via phone link): The benches were specifically made for skating.

 

Buxton disagreesd: Lyndon (Frearson, from CAT Projects which supervised the Mall upgrade) made it clear that the benches were designed to withstand skateboards. They were “skateboardable”. But that doesn’t mean they were for a skatepark.

 

Peter Solly (from the gallery): As a person interested in tourism he had been informed that skateboarding was going to be part of the Mall facelift. No-one had even told him that would not be so.

 

Buxton: How far back do you go? Skating may have been included in earlier plans but later ones confined it to the Snow Kenna Park.

 

(That park, being on the northern side of Wills Terrace, is outside the CBD, which is on the southern side of Wills Terrace. Outside the CBD skateboarding is not outlawed.)

 

Mr Stewart, in his address to the meeting, said during his time on council he did “not once” believe the seating would be used for skating: “It was not part of the agenda.”

 

He said the trial decision has been rushed through council, by-passing the council committee and advisory committee processes which are usually invoked for difficult decisions. He reiterated concerns he had earlier stated publicly.

 

He referred to the “Melbourne solution” where skaters have “wonderful free access”. Mr Stewart said this is “in part true – but under very strict guidelines. “They have a skate safe policy and ambassadors.” Mr Stewart did not explain why such measures could not be implemented in Alice Springs.

 

Dymocks Bookshop owner Bev Ellis, on behalf of the anti-skateboarders deputation, asked: “Who has right of way to on the seats?” Skaters or people wanting to sit.

 

Ms Ellis conceded her shop’s problems aren’t as bad as they could be because she blocks access to her shop from the Mall.

 

But the risks, she says, may be greater when she closes down her business in January. The new lessee of the space may well decide to open the doors to the Mall. The skateboard benches are directly outside the shop.

 

Cr Paech asked whether insurance companies other than TIO had been asked to provide cover. He was told by Mr Catchlove the council had “not gone further” than its current supplier.

 

Cr Paech said skaters did not want to be “located in back streets, they want to work together with community. If Melbourne can do it, why can’t we?”

 

Cr Paech attempted to cast a vote in favour of a Snow Kenna Park facility but against scuttling the trial. However, CEO Rex Mooney said this is a “composite motion” and Cr Paech’s vote would be recorded is being in the negative, making this a decision that was not unanimous.

 

Councillor Liz Martin said it’s important to “engage with the skateboarding fraternity” but she has had phone calls form people concerned about Mall patrons with disabilities or small children.

 

Councillor Steve Brown said he favours the “alternative”. Further skateboarding facilities could be developed nearby on the paths along the river.

 

Councillor Eli Melky said he supported Cr Paech’s support for the Snow Kenna Park resolution “all the way” and he regarded the Mall primarily as a place for business.

 

The meeting also dealt with the issue of refusal to show ID to council staff, drawing hefty fines of $567, which Cr Kudrenko says have targeted skaters.

 

Cr Brown questioned the need to give power to landfill employees to demand IDs from members of the public, suggesting after the Mall skating “furore” this may raise tempers.

 

But Mr Mooney claimed the measure is necessary so staff can ascertain the identity of dump users to whom they are giving infringement or banning notices or cautions.

 

According to the new by-laws, transgressions include not providing name, address and date of birth; removing of waste material of any kind; using abusive language against an employee.

 

They also prohibit bringing an animal to the facility. Councillor Dave Douglas asked would his tiny pooch on the passenger seat be OK?

 

The answer was no, but maybe the staff anointed – Mr Catchlove’s term – with these powers may use discretion.

 

Would town pool staff have powers to demand ID, asked Cr Kudrenko? Mr Mooney said he would have to check.

 

PHOTO: Part of the public gallery at last night’s meeting: Most are members of the anti-skateboardig deputation. In the back row, left, is council candidate John Bridgefoot. He says he is in favour of a trial but believes that the amphitheater solution is better, and “would make it safer for both the skaters and the people in the northern end of the mall”.

 

RELATED STORY: From the heart of a skateboarding enthusiast.

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17 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Peta
    Posted November 18, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I agree the picture tells a thousand words. Where are the young citizens of Alice Springs and the happy youths we would like to see on our streets.
    There are too many obstacles for them to face to even consider leaving their own homes to have fun. Goodness, people living in Alice Springs face “risks” every day just by living here.
    The mall is a dangerous place to walk even, does that come into the public liability risk?
    I am tired of our council always coming up with the “why they can’t or won’t” rather adopt an attitude of “we can”. Skaters in the mall give the appearance of a town where fun and happiness is possible and life can be enjoyed at least a little.

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  2. Kevin
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I don’t get it. A minority group that already has a $200.000 facility down next to the pool. Why should they be able to put pedestrians at risk, or vehicles for that matter.
    Who is going to pay when a skateboard flies into the side of my brand new car causing damage, yes I can see it now … The skatboarder would be gone in a flash.
    It’s a pedestrian mall, not a skate park.

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  3. Cizza
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I find really disturbing that you would move kids away from the safety of CCTV and people to push them out of sight.
    But I guess that is it, hey, out of sight out of mind. As the father of a young skateboarder I’m disappointed that you would be putting the young people in harm’s way of anti social behaviour.
    I keep hearing small town in this conversation. Yes Alice has a small long term population but a massive amount of people who frequent town very often.
    Skateboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, with 32 million people world wide jumping on a board (not bad for a fad that wouldn’t last in the late 70s).
    The SBA (skateboarding Australia) hub has over 100 kids learning too skate in this town – they are big numbers.
    I also heard the question of how often would a new park be used and I think it would get a lot more use than the velodrome!
    Majority rules don’t work in mental institutions and in this instance I can see why!

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  4. Sensible Steve
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 6:35 am

    You’re spot on Terri….small, as in mentality. Hey Anon, you absolutely NAILED it.

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  5. Terry
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    @Hal Duell
    A good, sensible post. Well said.

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  6. Terry
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    @Laughing
    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I am not joking, as much as you seem to feel that this is the case, but Alice IS a small town, with small town budgets, and hence small town facilities. I think you are living in a dream world, and sadly, I feel that you need to take off the rose tinted glasses.

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  7. Hal Duell
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    I think it’s simply not true to say Council is turning its back on the town’s kids. Not allowing skateboarding on Todd St North due to sound financial and legal reasons shows good judgement, not anyone’s abandonment.
    And if the youth really were being sent out of the room, why would Council be willing to build an amphitheatre specifically for some of them. How may kids are skateboarders, anyway? I would imagine it’s only a minority. Either way, the skateboarders have had a significant win with the commitment to new funding specifically for them and their sport, so could there be a tad less whinging? You’ve had a win. Make the most of it.
    @Melanie Ross Posted November 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm
    Good point.

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  8. Melanie Ross
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Somewhat ironic that the councillors who are all for us showing our ID on demand from a council employee are the same ones who howled when they were asked to show ID to buy grog.

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  9. Laughing
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Terry,
    You have got to be joking mate.
    Because Alice is a small town with few kids?
    I hardly think Alice Springs is a small town and this “small town” plays host to some of the most disadvantaged and challenged kids in the world.
    We also have many world standard sporting facilities in this town – You have such a problem with skateboarding that it doesn’t deserve the same?
    Perhaps they should just build some more skateable furniture somewhere and later decide its against a by-law to use it?
    Your all so worried about skateboarding behind a bookshop that is about to close down – another business about to leave town.
    Don’t worry about that though – the bad kids with their pice of plywood on wheels is a much bigger issue.
    As Colin said – Muppets.

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  10. Anon
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 11:07 am

    The picture paints a thousand words …

    View Comment
  11. Colin Lillie
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Well good luck Alice Springs in the future when you refuse to listen to it.
    You seem to be living in the past and ignoring the present because for some reason voices are only heard if you are a certain demographic and age.
    You seem to forget that the young folks are voters of tomorrow.
    I feel you are teaching these young people a continual unbalanced system. A system full of bureaucrats, of people who have forgotten just what being young means and who are afraid of change.
    People who are afraid of looking into the mirror and reflecting on their own part in the past present and future of this unique, rich cultural democratic town.
    A town that is always in the public eye of the nation due to the lack of innovative alternatives in local government which seems to always point the finger to those whose voices are ignored.
    Alice, it is truly time to start electing people in positions of authority who understand that as in life, change is the only real way to move forward and have a happy well balanced productive town.
    To allow all voices regardless of status and age to be heard. To be honest why would the voters of tomorrow bother voting?
    It seems to be the same people making the decisions any way. Time to strike out and strike on the vote. Muppets!

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  12. Terry
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 1:07 am

    @ Matty Day

    Great post, but, “This is a great opportunity for our council to build a world class facility that not only serves the needs of the community but attracts major national and international events.”
    Sorry, but this is a bit over the top. Give the kids a good facility, yes, but remember where you are, Alice, in the middle of nowhere, a town with a small population, and even fewer kids. Let’s keep it real shall we?

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  13. Terry
    Posted November 13, 2013 at 1:03 am

    A good decision by the council. So long as they build a skate area as promised. Why would any council willingly put people at risk and themselves at risk of legal action? Well done Members of the council.

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  14. Hal Duell
    Posted November 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    It was a hard call, but I think Council did the right thing to make it. We were heading into a legal and financial minefield.
    But the skaters deserve a spot in the sun, and an amphitheatre in or just outside Snow Kenna Park sounds right. The more activities we can generate on the Todd the better.
    I have to agree with the idea not to rush into the construction. Much better we consult widely, decide on an optimum design, and build it to last. Anything else would be putting the cart before the horse.
    About the social ills associated with the area in and around Snow Kenna Park, and what better way to address them than to flood the area with lights and activity. People up to no good usually prefer to lurk about in the shadows.
    Perhaps the area will need security as well as lights. OK. Provide it. Alice Springs has been held to ransom by the useless ones long enough. Maybe get the Rangers down there, see how they go asking that lot for ID.

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  15. No country for old men ...
    Posted November 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    This fiasco is breathtaking – roll on the elections, let’s start getting people with some clue and a decent set of priorities into council.
    And Eli – the mall is a public space, for all of us. You, our servant, should recognise this important concept.

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  16. Posted November 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Once again, we have let the youth of this town down. Great decision council – NOT. I would listen to Matty Day, after all, he is older than 20 and so you cannot treat him as a youth.
    He knows about skate parks, the designs and use thereof.
    If you are going to fund a skatepark that will house the skating community and host interstate and possibly international events, then please take the time to study what needs to be done to make it right the first time.
    And please consider again a Code of Conduct for our skaters. If Melbourne can do this, why can we not follow a great example of working WITH the youth.
    With regards to the vast amounts of fines just for not providing ID, I believe they are excessive.
    We are not in a police state and I believe that anyone in the public service should be able to request ID in a polite manner, not demand it.
    If you are aiming to curb or tame the youth, working WITH them will give you better results.

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  17. Matty Day
    Posted November 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Last night we learnt that removing the by-law which bans skateboarding in the CBD would allow the council to be insured for public liability. Good, let’s get that happening immediately. We understand that repealing the by-law may take time. That’s OK. We are happy to wait.
    On the proposal of a new facility it would seem reasonable to not rush in. I am extremely concerned about the safety of the young people who are expected to hang out on the banks if the Todd River a known hotspot for anti social behaviour violence etc etc.
    Please, I urge council to take this discussion to a meeting outside of the ordinary council meeting, consult with user groups work out variables and costs, find the best designers and construction company to make the new facility.
    I am also concerned that although council claims it has the budget and wants to deliver a new facility within six months that they are underestimating the project and shooting from the hip. Once again, let’s slow down get it right and reap the rewards for the next decade, if not two.
    This is a great opportunity for our council to build a world class facility that not only serves the needs of the community but attracts major national and international events.
    Iconic Bondi have been hosting crowds of 5000 spectators annually. Alice with its iconic status can pull big crowds of tourists to youth culture events also. “If you build it, they will come.”

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