Kingston Traders and TAMS are battling over grass in Green Square at the Kingston Shops. Photo: Graham Tidy
The ACT government was squandering a golden opportunity to foster community ownership of green space by its heavy-handed approach to restoring grass in Kingston's Green Square, said University of Canberra academic Andrew MacKenzie.
Dr MacKenzie, assistant professor of landscape architecture, said Territory and Municipal Services was engaged in a "clumsy and unimaginative attempt to shift the cost, risk and red tape on to the local vendors" by giving them a bill for an estimated $70,000 to replant and water grass.
After years of protracted squabbling over Green Square, which was planted with drought-resistant natives in 2010, traders have offered to cover the bill for relaying the grass.
But this week they went public with their disgust over a TAMS memorandum of understanding that shifted $20 million in public liability insurance and two $20,000 ten-year bonds to traders.
Kingston Traders spokesman and building owner Pawl Cubbin, who had offered to pay up to $20,000 for the grass, described it as "bureaucracy gone mad".
Dr MacKenzie said TAMS should be "jumping for joy" at the offer and be prepared to work with traders and hand responsibility for the grass over to them.
"If Kingston Green can be willingly maintained by the community without having to privatise the space through development then a new model for caring for managing the Canberra landscape could be mobilised across many of the city's parks and commons," Dr MacKenzie said.
TAMS officials contacted Mr Cubbin on Tuesday to organise a meeting on Thursday to resolve the matter urgently.
Dr MacKenzie said the TAMS memorandum would not work because "it lacks imagination and fails to consider how to devolve the decisions about open space management to those that have the greatest to gain from investing in and maintaining Kingston Green''.
''By giving local vendors greater authority along with responsibility for maintaining some open spaces, TAMS might be able to support a new way of keeping Canberra clean and green in an increasingly constrained financial environment as revenues decline.''
Meanwhile, former and current traders said the government spent considerable time consulting with them in the early 1990s to come up with a plan to regenerate Green Square with drought-resistant grass and sub-soil irrigation, but reneged at the last minute and the work was never undertaken.
John Cusack, of the Cusack family store, which had been operating in Kingston since 1938, said it was unacceptable that tenants be
expected to cover the cost of new grass when it was the government's responsibility.
"They should have done the job properly in the first place, after spending months and months talking to us in endless meetings.
''I don't see why traders should be hit with the whole thing now. It is not fair at all."
Former Kingston tenant Peter Jansen also took part in the consultation at the time and said it was outrageous to expect local businesses to stump up money for government neglect.
"It really got my goat to read that the traders are now expected to pay for all of this,'' he said. ''If the government had done their job properly in the first place this wouldn't be happening.
''I think the government should go right back to their original plan and do what they said they would do - and pay for it. In the meantime, the rates and land taxes in Kingston have gone through the roof, and for what?"
Mr Cusack said impending commercial competition from the Kingston foreshore development meant a solution to Kingston's Green Square woes was required urgently, lest businesses suffer further.
"Grass would definitely enhance the area, and they need to do it quickly because there is going to be a lot more competition in the future."
Liberal MLA Steve Doszpot said the issue showed the government was ''seriously out of touch'' with the business community.
''I'm hoping this can be resolved without delay so these traders who have the community at heart can get on with running their businesses,'' he said.