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Call to review “failing” Park Lands Act

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The president of the Adelaide Park Lands Preservation Association has called for an independent review of the Park Lands Act in the wake of what he describes as “the worst time in Adelaide’s park lands history”.

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Association president Shane Sody said the legislation had “spectacularly failed” to prevent the loss of sections of the park lands to private development.

Sody estimated approximately seven tennis courts-worth of park lands were being lost to commercial development each year, adding the number of developments had “rapidly accelerated” since the Park Lands Act was brought in by the Rann Government in 2005.

The Act was designed to “promote the special status, attributes and character of the Adelaide park lands” and to provide for the “protection and management of the land as a world class asset”.

But Sody said the Act doesn’t set out a statutory limit on commercial development on the park lands, meaning successive state governments have been allowed to grant private developers permission to encroach on what is designated public land.

“In the past six or seven years we’ve seen probably the worst time in Adelaide’s park land history in terms of what we’ve lost,” he said.

“Since the Adelaide Park Lands Act was brought in in 2005, we’ve had an acceleration of the number of things that have been built on park lands.

“At what point do we say enough is enough – especially given the current Liberal Government has talked publicly about how the investment in the Riverbank precinct is only just beginning.”

Developments currently underway or planned for the park lands include the new Adelaide Botanic High School, the Festival Plaza redevelopment, the Walker Corporation office tower, Adelaide Casino expansion and several sporting club buildings, including the South Australian Cricket Association’s three-storey function building.

There are also proposals to build a new multipurpose sporting arena near Adelaide Oval and a 27-storey hotel building on the banks of the River Torrens.

The hotel is listed in the Adelaide City Council’s investment prospectus as a proposed major development, but Lord Mayor Martin Haese has previously said the inclusion of the hotel in the prospectus does not signify council’s endorsement of it.

The Adelaide Park Lands Preservation Association wrote to Planning Minister Stephan Knoll in April to call for an amendment to the Park Lands Act to prevent “alienation” of the park lands “unless a previously-alienated site of equivalent or greater size is returned”.

They did not receive a response.

Sody said the former and current state governments had failed to uphold the one clause in the Act that stipulates the protection of park lands as public land.

According to Section 23 of the Act, if land within the Adelaide park lands that is occupied by the Crown or a state authority is no longer required for its existing use, “the Minister must ensure that a report concerning the State Government’s position on the future use and status of the land is prepared”.

“The issue of section 23 has obviously failed in the case of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site,” Sody said.

“In 2008, it was decided that the site was no longer going to be used for the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

“That site is part of the park lands, yet neither the former Weatherill Government nor the current Liberal Government have produced a report as required by the Act.

“That site is now being turned into a commercial site with Lot 14.”

The State Government’s plan for the site includes a national Aboriginal art and culture museum, a “business hub”, a culinary school and the potential to house Australia’s national space agency.

A section of the site will also be returned to the Adelaide Botanic Garden.

Sody said a review of the Park Lands Act would be ideally carried out by an independent and nonpartisan organisation such as the SA Heritage Council or National Trust.

Part of the review, he said, should consider whether to grant the Adelaide Park Lands Authority more power over development approvals.

“I’m not sure the way that the Adelaide Park Lands Authority in the way that it is constituted is necessarily the best vehicle for protecting the park lands,” he said.

“They have only recommendation powers to the city council and the State Government – they can’t actually make any decisions.”

The Adelaide City Council and the Adelaide Park Lands Authority are currently in the process of reviewing the Authority’s charter.

Sody said a review of the Park Lands Act could also consider the governance of the Riverbank precinct, which is part of the park lands.

In September, Minister Knoll announced the State Government would replace the Riverbank Authority with an advisory committee populated by nearby property owners and occupiers and an elected member from the city council.

The new committee, called the Riverbank Entertainment Precinct Advisory Committee (REPAC), will be chaired by Roger Cook –  one of the founders of the Australian real estate giant Colliers International.

Knoll will also appoint a representative each from SkyCity Casino, the InterContinental Hotel, Adelaide Convention Centre, Adelaide Festival Centre, the Adelaide Oval Stadium Management Authority, the Adelaide City Council and Renewal SA to sit on the committee.

Sody said he was “incredibly disappointed” that Knoll had not considered a representative from the Park Lands Preservation Association on the committee.

“The people on the committee all have a commercial interest in exploiting the park lands for profit and what we’re saying is we need someone on board who will stand up for the protection of the park lands,” he said.

Knoll said in a statement to InDaily that because the Adelaide City Council had one representative on REPAC, “they will no doubt be a strong voice for our park lands”.

Greens MLC Mark Parnell, who has long campaigned for the protection of the park lands, said he had not yet considered a review of the Park Lands Act but he generally supported the call.

“The Act has been useful in stopping (former Treasurer) Kevin Foley from building that big grandstand in Victoria Park, but I agree that it hasn’t stopped other developments,” he said.

“We have to be careful about what we wish for because there is the danger that we would get the wrong person in charge of the review – someone, for instance, who is open to development opportunities.

“Ideally we would re-write the legislation to give it more teeth.”

Asked if he was open to reviewing the Adelaide Park Lands Act, Knoll responded: “Our park lands are a unique asset for our city and the envy of other cities around the world. The State Government is committed to preserving and activating this treasure so that all South Australians can enjoy what they have to offer.”

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