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Keep old RAH site in Govt hands: Xenophon

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Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has urged the State Government to keep the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site in public hands, as it prepares to announce the winning developer for the land.

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Xenophon is one of 29 “eminent South Australians” – including food author Maggie Beer, inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission chairperson Lowitja O’Donoghue and former SA Premier Lynn Arnold – listed on a Park Lands Preservation Association petition arguing that private and residential development should never be permitted on the parklands.

Xenophon told InDaily he believed the the Government’s O-Bahn extension through Rymill Park was “an act of vandalism” and said the East End of the city could remain viable without long-term leases, or the private sale, of the old RAH site.

“The East End does need to be kept viable, but my concern was about ripping into new parts of the parklands,” he said.

“As long as the state has control over it, that’s the primary concern from my point of view.

“We can still have a vibrant East End.”

He said short-term leases of the site for commercial purposes would be appropriate, but that the Government should retain ultimate control so that it could be returned to parklands in the future.

Xenophon said he did not consider a 99-year lease – a likely alternative to permanent sale – an appropriate use of the site, preferring shorter-term leases of “seven or 10 years”.

But he said his main impetus for signing the petition was the “vandalism” of Rymill Park associated with the O-Bahn extension.

“The final straw was the development … [of] Rymill Park,” he said.

“It was ripping up parklands when there was no need to.

“There are other ways to save commuting travel time without … ripping up the parklands.”

Trees cut down to make way for the O-Bahn extension. Photo: Bension Siebert / InDaily

Trees cut down to make way for the O-Bahn extension. Photo: Bension Siebert / InDaily

The petition reads: “Appropriation of parklands for commercial ‘development’, including hotels and office blocks, should never be countenanced, and private residential development should never be permitted.

“The parklands are an invaluable heritage that must not be traded.

“The errors of the past must form no precedent for the future.

“We therefore urge the South Australian Government and the Adelaide City Council to honour their trust, and reject notions of private residential and/or commercial property development within the Adelaide parklands.”

But the petitioners’ words are unlikely to move the Government, which is expected to announce the winning developer for the site this month.

In March, Renewal SA boss John Hanlon categorically ruled out returning the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site to parklands, instead spruiking “exciting” redevelopment proposals for the site, about which negotiations were then “getting down to a serious stage”.

“A lot of people tell me … you’ve got to return it to parklands,” Hanlon told a gathering of about 350 property industry representatives at a corporate breakfast earlier this year.

“I go, jeez, I don’t see too many people with their picnic baskets wandering down there at the moment … out in the middle of seven hectares inside the RAH.

“It’s not going to happen – that’s not how it’s going to work.”

The full petition, available here, lists the following South Australians as having endorsed it, although InDaily has been unable to contact each of them to confirm their endorsement:

InDaily contacted the Government for comment, but the relevant ministers were in Cabinet and unable to comment before deadline.

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