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Grass idea so much greener for Braddon

Date

Shane Rattenbury

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Photo: Pat Campbell

A surface-level car park, or grassy, open space? That is the choice being debated for the area surrounding Northbourne Oval in Braddon. With increasing urban density and record hot summers, it seems obvious to me we should be seeking to reserve our pockets of green space in inner-city areas.

That is why I recently described a proposal to construct a commercial car park next to the oval as ''absurd'', much to the ire of Jeff House from ClubsACT and the Canberra Raiders. So much so that Mr House penned a column in these pages on Thursday, and the Raiders sent me a strongly worded letter, asserting that my ''untimely interference in [their] legal and legitimate process is extremely unprofessional for an elected member''.

Heaven forbid - a member of the Assembly expressing a view on a matter of concern to his constituents!

The development application, which has been approved, replaces the existing grassed area at the northern end of Northbourne Oval with a 216-space gravel car park with boom gates, which will presumably be used for commuter car parking.

This is a short-sighted idea that does not look to the future of the inner north. Braddon is one of Canberra's fastest-changing suburbs, with many new medium-density housing developments and a flourishing cafe culture. Walking and cycling rates are increasing, and soon light rail will come on line. The ACT government's Transport for Canberra Plan has a policy of reducing parking provision in areas of higher density, where other transport options are available.

Car parks, even gravel ones, act as heat banks, increasing temperatures in our increasingly hot summers. We should be preparing for a changing climate by retaining the cool green spaces we have. What Braddon does not need right now is another big car park.

The issue of the deconcessionalisation of community facilities is more of a conundrum. The proposed redevelopment of the Braddon Club is an example of a broader trend. Community clubs across Canberra are, for a range of reasons, seeking to alter the way they use the facilities that have been made available to them, with a broader trend towards commercial ventures.

Demographic and social changes over the decades have meant clubs are having to think laterally and diversify to secure their long-term viability. Sports such as lawn bowls are not as universally popular as they were, and those with activity-specific facilities are facing uncertain futures. It is heartening to see examples such as the Turner Bowls Club teaming up with the Polish, French and Croatian clubs and the arts community to make their facilities available as music, dancing and meeting venues.

Football clubs, on the other hand, have grown and professionalised and are using their facilities to generate income to cover the increasing costs of coaches, players and air travel. At the same time, there are small groups such as emerging ethnic communities that find it difficult to access land for new facilities. The government needs a clear policy on the use of community land to secure space for a range of community interests well into the future.

The world has changed since clubs were first given concessional status. Football clubs like the Raiders are now multimillion-dollar entities with diverse business interests and revenue streams, including gaming. The Greens welcome any real action by clubs to move away from their reliance on gaming revenue. But this cannot exclusively be driven by real-estate deals on parcels of land designated for community use.

Finally, Mr House claims ''community councils should not have formal standing'' and that he ''fails to see how community councils can be negatively impacted by a development''. It is Mr House who fails to see the role of community councils as acting as a collective voice for community concern. They are often the only groups examining the detail of development proposals, as most people are far too busy in their day-to-day lives.

Council membership is open to all, and reflects a cross-section of political views. They may not represent all voices, but they have a right to put forward their views to elected representatives, and to the government through formal planning processes.

The right to ''standing'' is a basic principle of the citizenry's right to call their government to account, and, in this specific instance, these rights have been affirmed by the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

These are hard questions, but I am certain we will get better answers through discussion, not by telling community groups and leaders that they have no right to express their views.

Shane Rattenbury is the ACT Greens member for Molonglo

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