HIGH-RISE CITY: “In less than a decade there’ll be a crying need for some green open space within short walking distance of all these soon-to-be city homes,” the author says. Picture: Simone De Peak .Have there ever been so many cranes swinging across Newcastle’s skyline?
The place is booming with residential developments.
There are apartments everywhere, and the city’s West End is no exception.
There are apartments already on top of Marketown Shopping Centre.
Nearby, there are blocks going up next to the Travelodge and others planned for next door to Central Plaza (the old, expanded Latec House).
There are more slated for the Wickham end of Honeysuckle and around what some of us used to call the Bank Corner.
There will be hundreds of apartments, individual dwellings without the sniff of a back yard or a street in which to play.
Nowhere to lie under the shade of a tree or feel the grass between your toes.
In less than a decade there will be a crying need for some green open space within short walking distance of all these soon-to-be city homes, and about the only place left is National Park.
The part of the park closest to these developments is the north-west corner, bounded by National Park, Parry and Smith streets, just north of the athletics track and the croquet courts.
It covers 19,500 square metres, or almost 2 hectares (5 acres in the old money), and presently it isa disgrace to the city.
The lease on the National Park Street tennis courts ran out years ago, and there’s now more than an acre of abandoned asphalt, a club house frequented by the graffiti crowd and a couple of old blokes sleeping rough.
Even worse is the Smith Street side, with the burnt-out shell of the old Life Without Barriers building, abandoned sheds and other structures, and, of course, the inevitable asphalt.
The graffiti boys have been busy there too.
Then there’s the overgrown, dilapidated and fenced-off eyesore that is the former sensory garden at the corner of Parry and Smith.
The only part of this whole area still apparently in use, but under a lease, is Wal Young House, the present home of the District Bowls Association.
I say “apparently in use” because a walk-by this week suggests it might have been abandoned too.
A huge grassed parking area for a few bowls officials.
Just over two years ago, our city council distributed the glossy brochure National Park Development Lease, complete with artists’ impressions (haven’t we seen a lot of those lately?) of huge paved areas with people mysteriously walking dogs and kicking balls.
And more buildings whose purpose is far from obvious.
The council doesn’t seem to have been overwhelmed with proposals or interest in the intervening years, and there’s an obvious reason.
The land is community land and is zoned RE1: public recreation, and nothing else.
It can’t be sold, and can’t be leasedfor very long either.
Isn’t it high time this very valuable (some would say priceless) piece of the city was finally put to the use for which it was intended?
That isas green open space for use by all the public, and particularly the new residents who will soon call the West End home?
Some of these new residents might even have kids.
The Americans have a saying: “You can’t fight city hall”.
Well 34 years ago, I and a group of supporters did.
I sued the City in the Land and Environment Court over the asphalting of too much of National Park, mainly for netball courts.
Residents from the neighbourhood and across the city joined the campaign and kicked the tin in the hope of preserving a morsel of green space in the inner city.
It settled with the city’s promise of no more asphalt.
The future use of National Park ought to be a no-brainer: transformingthis precious part of the city for passive recreation and green, open space.
Carl BoydCarl Boyd is an inner-city resident with a long standing interest in environmental issues. He was the Plaintiff in Boyd v Newcastle City Council and Newcastle Netball Association, NSW Land and Environment Court, 1984.