Federal Labor Approves Empire Park Skate Park despite lack of consultation and community opposition
Federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson announced [3 March 2010] that the Labor Federal Government has approved the Newcastle City Council’s (NCC) application for $400,000 in taxpayer funding for a 1000sqm district skate park at heritage listed Empire Park which is opposed by thousands of Park users.[i] Now it is time for the NCC to ensure proper community involvement in the design and implementation to ensure Empire Park remains a safe and inclusive place for all users
The PEP group has consistently raised concerns about proposed skate park with the NCC and Labor State and Federal Governments since discovering the proposal in late 2009 through the media. These concerns include issues of safety, protection from vandalism, loss of green open space, appearance, family friendliness, lack of parking, lack of maintenance funding, access to the licensed club next door and lack of public transport. The final point is particularly concerning for younger skaters who rely on public transport, including many of those who have written to us saying they really want new facilities but thought the NCC was going to build them in Broadmeadow where they can access them.
Sadly, the Federal Government has accepted the NCC Administration’s assertion that a Skate Park Review last year met the “community consultation” requirement under the Guidelines for these Stimulus Grants. The reality is that while it was a great review of skaters, there was no real effort made to canvass broader community views. For example, it was advertised by media releases designed to capture the attention of skaters eg “Don’t be BGL – be down with the street and vert!” and the only meeting held at Empire Park wasn’t notified to residents and was held at 4pm on a weekday which excludes working people from attending.[ii]
Even Sharon Grierson points out in her letter to constituents that the concerns users of Empire Park have about the proposal are founded and worthy of more community involvement[iii] :
I understand the concern and fears expressed by local residents that the facility has the potential to be abused and become a magnet for anti-social behaviour…. Concerns are also held that with more users in the park and the upgrade of the skateboard facility to district level, the nature of the park will chance and reduce the amenity currently experienced by local users… Mention has also been made to me of the potential problems with regard to properly maintaining the facility and adequately policing public safety.
It is my view that the concerns raised with me by opponents are genuinely held and are deserving of careful consideration by NCC at every phase of construction and operation. Similarly, public safety around the future skateboard park deserves careful consideration and collaboration by users, council and the police
We have made formal requests to the NCC Administration to hold independently mediated meetings of the Empire Park community, including sporting and recreational groups, as well as the Protect Empire Park group and the Skating Working Party they set up in 2009 to discuss these issues to no avail. The NCC General Manager Lindy Hyam did promise to involve us when the funding came through, so we call on the NCC to now hold these workshops.[iv]
Ideas that may be useful in reducing the potentially negative impact of the skate park include reducing the size of the hard-surface footprint, including family-friendly features such as picnic tables and BBQs, lighting, fencing, a night-time curfew and CCTV. Clearly the NCC also needs to commit funds to maintaining this facility.
It is important to remember that by asking for proper thought and consultation to take place that we aren’t opposing skating. The skaters have a right to ask the Council for amenities to suit their needs and these people generally take care of the facilities they use, unlike the vandals who seem attracted to these facilities under the cover of darkness as we saw in February when a burning car was driven onto Croudace Bay skate park. However, the Protect Empire Park group believe that Empire Park should be maintained as a family-friendly and inclusive place for all users, including the thousands who have already registered their opposition to the current proposal.
Protect Empire Park
[i] How many supporters does PEP have?
- Over 720 people have signed our petition against a 1000sqm district skate park in Empire Park. They include people of all ages from across Newcastle, including a number of skaters who feel Empire Park is not the right location for this facility.
- 1649 people belong to the “Protect Empire Park” Facebook group which is described as: “This Group is intended to provide information to users of Empire Park, Newcastle, Australia who are opposed to elements of proposed development to the Park including a 1000sqm district level concrete skate park, retail development and it being carved up by a road running through the middle.”
[ii] Why the Skate Review in 2008/09 wasn’t real community consultation
This Review was a review of skaters about skate facilities across Newcastle. It was not a genuine community consultation on a 1000sqm district skate park in Empire Park.
For example, it was advertised by media releases designed to capture the attention of skaters eg “Don’t be BGL – be down with the street and vert! If you understand the skateboard lingo then you should probably head to a planning session for skate spaces in Newcastle”.
No minutes were kept at these meetings, and there is no record of what was said at them. The only meeting at Empire Park was held at 4pm on a weekday. A questionnaire was handed out at the meetings which is clearly aimed at skaters with questions such as “What do you ride?”, “How do you rate the skate facility?”
The returned questionnaires constitute the only written record from this period. The NCC claims residents were letterboxed with a flyer featuring a skater, but I understand the PEP Group has doorknocked and haven’t found a single resident who received this document.
[iii] Sharon Grierson’s support for further consultation
From her letter of 3 March:
In discussions with the Protect Empire Park group last Friday, the representatives in attendances again stated their dissatisfaction with the consultation process.
Although this remains a council process I undertook to pass these concerns onto Newcastle City Council as well as their specific request that if the project proceeds then the Newcastle City Council bring together representatives from the PEP, the Skating Working party, Empire Park user groups and local residents to discuss the actual plan for the facility so that it has wide community input.
A further request by the PEP was for the council to consider mediation by the Community Justice Centre of major obstacle emerge. I have passed on those requests to Newcastle City Council with my encouragement for ongoing consultation around the project.”
[iv] NCC’s assurances of consultation on the design
In a letter to PEP, 12 February 2010, Lindy Hyam stated,
During the design phase council will hold a workshop at which residents, skaters, Councillors and other interested parties will have an opportunity to provide input to the design … it is likely that the Council would be in a position to hold this workshop within a month from notification that the funds have been granted.”