Gardeners at the Suffolk Park Community Garden say they’ve been trapped in a procedural Catch-22 by Byron Shire Council, after it gave the green light to an expanded pump track (BMX track).
At Council’s December meeting, contractors World Trail were granted $200,000 for design and construction of stage two of the pump track at the Linda Vidler Memorial Parklands, despite the masterplan for the parklands not yet being complete.
Craig Scanlan, president of the Suffolk Park Community Garden, is demanding an explanation from Council for giving the pump track preferential treatment.
Mr Scanlan said the community garden ‘has been unable to develop its own plans because it does not have a licence… Council have repeatedly told us that we cannot apply for a licence until the garden is officially on the [Linda Vidler] masterplan.’
‘Yet the pump track has no licence, and no members, is already on the masterplan, was given $118,700 of council funds and now it is getting a further $200,000 from the development fund to build stage two.’
Labor councillor, Paul Spooner, who voted against the stage two proposal, said it was a ‘terrible decision’.
‘Why waste money on a masterplan if you’re just going to make decisions and ignore it?’
Cr Spooner said he couldn’t understand why a majority of councillors supported the pump track expansion, since the masterplan is due to be finalised in April.
‘Councillors who voted for it just made a mockery of that whole process.’
Greens councillor, Jeannette Martin, who supported the pump track expansion, said she thought the process was ‘odd’ and ‘very frustrating’ for the community garden, but supported the proposal because at the council meeting, she was ‘assured it wasn’t going to impact on the community garden, and that there had been conversations with the community garden people about creating a border of Lilli Pillis’.
Stage one of the pump track development had the support of the community garden, but on the day of the meeting, Council supported an amendment to also fund stage two, with the rationale that it would be cheaper to build the two stages together.
Craig Scanlan said the community garden strongly disapproved of the much larger stage two and was not told it would be on the Council’s agenda.
Yet councillor Cate Coorey, who supported stage two, told The Echo, ‘The pump track and the gardens are not incompatible.’
President of the Suffolk Park Progress Association, Donald Maughan, said there was urgency to build the pump track, as the SPPA was running out of time to use previously allocated grant money. Mr Maughan was frustrated that there was continued hostility over the track, which he said would be ‘an absolute godsend for the youth of our community.’
‘It won’t detract, it will add to the park. The kids want it, the kids need it, let’s just do it’.
Mr Maughan, Mayor Simon Richardson, and Councillors Coorey and Martin all expressed support for the community garden to become a licenced fixture in the park.
However, the main complaint of the community gardeners was the process, said Craig Scanlan.
‘The issue is more that the progress association have been able to [move] forward their project without the masterplan, while the football club and the community garden have been unable to’.
A Council spokesperson said in a statement: ‘The pump track was identified as an action in Council’s adopted Open Space and Recreational Needs Assessment Action Plan… The community garden is an important part of the social fabric of the park, and Council staff have, and will continue to, work closely with members to support the gardens and its volunteers. The Masterplan is expected to be completed by April, which will then enable the community garden to get its licence and apply for grants’.
Philippa Clark is an Echo intern