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Councillors fear axing under changes to park lands authority

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State Government moves to install a more “diverse board” for the Adelaide Park Lands Authority has city councillors worried their positions will be cut.

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Both the State Government and Adelaide City Council are currently consulting on the appointment of new and existing members to the Park Lands Authority, with the current board due for renewal on March 31.

Under the Adelaide Park Lands Act, APLA must be comprised of 10 members, half of which are appointed by the State Government and the other half appointed by the city council.

Planning Minister Stephan Knoll told InDaily this morning the State Government would seek to ensure its elected representatives on the new board reflected more “expertise across relevant fields”, including environmental management, open space planning, cultural heritage and local government.

“These changes are going to ensure we have a more diverse board with the skill set required by the Act to carry out the functions of APLA,” Knoll said.

But the changes have the current sitting councillors on APLA concerned, with several telling InDaily this morning they had been informed at a council meeting on Saturday that the changes would mean councillor participation on the board would be reduced.

In the past, the city council has filled its four-person quota on the APLA board with elected members, with the fifth position designated to the Lord Mayor as the presiding member.

But the current sitting councillors said they were told on Saturday that the number of councillors on the board would be reduced from four members to one.

North ward councillor Phil Martin described the proposed changes as a “naïve” attempt by the State Government to “water down council’s influence on matters concerning the park lands”.

“This represents a substantial departure from past practice,” he said.

“Every business, every resident and every user of the parklands should understand that rate payers of the City of Adelaide contribute $20 over every $100 in rates for the maintenance and the improvements to the park lands.

“The Government doesn’t contribute a cracker to the maintenance of the park lands.

“These guys are attempting to dictate to the ratepayers how they want to park lands to run without ever coming up with a cent towards its maintenance.”

Area councillor Rob Simms expressed similar views, saying councillor representation was necessary to ensure the board considered ratepayers’ concerns.

“Really, elected members have been very strong advocates for the park lands on the Park Lands Authority,” he said.

“The residents and rate payers of the City of Adelaide pay a lot of money towards the park lands, we’re a major stakeholder and I think we have a responsibility to reflect the views of rate payers at the decision table.

“Having a strong representative voice on APLA is really important, so anything that dilutes that would be the wrong direction for us to go down.”

Fellow area councillor Anne Moran, who has been on the APLA board since its inception, expressed similar concern that the council’s influence on the board could be reduced, but she said she supported the State Government’s call to appoint independent experts.

“I’m not that unhappy,” she said.

“The last government appointed department employees, which was very difficult because they had a conflict about practically everything.

“But, because the ratepayers of council pay for 100 per cent of the park land upkeep and improvements and we are the representatives of those said rate payers, councillors should have a say in matters.

“Really, no body has greater skillset than long-serving councillors.”

A State Government spokesperson said the State Government was not proposing to reduce the number of council members on the board.

But a council spokesperson said Knoll had written to the council proposing that in the future, both levels of government look at appointing more members with “independent expertise”.

“This would in turn help to better inform APLA’s independent advice to Council and the State Government about matters involving the park lands,” the spokesperson said.

“This issue and any appointments beyond 31 March will be discussed publicly at tomorrow night’s council meeting.

“Ultimately, it is up to elected members to decide the composition of council’s representation on APLA, consistent with the requirements of the Act.”

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