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Money on the table for Victoria Square transformation

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Deputy Premier John Rau has put his money where his mouth is, suggesting a $20 million parklands fund could be used to transform Victoria Square.

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Rau told InDaily yesterday that the city’s central square was “a completely failed piece of design” because it was divided by roads into six parts, acting like “a big traffic island”.

Speaking on radio this morning, Rau said that a $20 million fund, set aside for the parklands and left unspent since the State Government took it to the last election, could be used to replace Victoria Square’s diamond-shaped north-south roads with grass and trees.

“Having Adelaide’s central park … substantially under bitumen and being basically a big roundabout is not okay – it’s not good enough,” Rau told ABC 891 radio.

Rau, recently appointed as Minister for the City of Adelaide, said the fact that no money yet been spent from the fund was a “reason why this [Victoria Square upgrade] is a conversation”.

“[Victoria Square] is technically a park,” he said.

“Under the Parklands Act, we can do a lot better than having it under bitumen and full of cars.

“[However] we have to have decent proposals, something that we will be discussing, and have been discussing with the Adelaide City Council, before we actually press the button and spend the money”.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese told the radio program that “squaring the square is important” and he would work with the State Government to get it done.

“The opportunity here is to open up that space, more grass, more trees, more people and a larger area which then becomes infinitely more usable,” he said.

“I’m a pragmatist – I will work with the Minister and we will find a solution towards delivering South Australia what it probably always deserved.

“I think we both want to have a space which more people can use.

“I don’t believe this is a failed piece of design – and I say that categorically – but it can be better.”

Last month, Haese declared 2016 would be a “year of delivery” for yet-to-be-announced major projects in the CBD.

Rau’s comments in InDaily yesterday, describing the current layout of the square as “just a completely failed piece of design in terms of a city park”, sparked fury among some city councillors at a public meeting last night.

“I don’t need to tell you how offensive that is,” North Ward councillor Phil Martin told the meeting.

“We are being treated like playthings [by the State Government].”

Area councillor Anne Moran also described Rau’s comments as “offensive” and suggested it was hypocritical for Rau to criticise the square’s design, since the State Government had helped to fund it.

However, Rau told 891 this morning that he had privately lobbied for the square to be “squared” before the $28 million “stage one” upgrades the council completed in 2014.

“We would have done much better to spend the money on turning the Victoria Square into a place for people, lawns and trees [rather] than spending the money that was spent on the work that’s been done there,” he said.

“For what it’s worth, at the time, I did privately urge them to get on with the main game, which was fixing the roads.

“[However] I don’t want to labour the point about past decisions of the former Lord Mayor or former council.

“It’s water under the bridge.”

Rau dismissed concerns closing the north-south roads to redirect traffic around the square’s perimeter would cause congestion.

“Frankly, running north-south through the centre of the city should not be the preferred way people get from Gawler to Seaford,” said Rau.

“People are supposed to be using that ring route around the city.”

InDaily understands Lord Mayor Martin Haese expressed optimism, at a confidential city council workshop in November last year, that the State Government would be willing to part with millions of dollars to help the council square the Square, following discussions with Rau.

It is understood that Rau and Haese have been discussing joint funding for upgrades to Victoria Square, among other city projects, since late last year.

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