Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes said the aim of an overarching agency overseeing 6000 hectares was to look for ways to better manage, restore and expand Sydney’s parks.
“We have seen in the past how parklands were often victim to more powerful voices for development. This is all about giving parks a powerful voice of their own,” he said.
Moore Park has been one of the most contested parklands in Australia. The Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, which was set up in the early 1980s, repelled a bid several years ago by the powerful Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust to build a new stadium on its land.
Labor sport and recreation spokeswoman Lynda Voltz said the revamp was an outrageous move that put Moore Park at risk given the neighbouring SCG Trust’s attempts to get its hands on the parkland.
“The government makes a lot of noise about open space but they don’t seem to do anything to protect it,” she said. “Every time this government has a problem it is either our recreation or parklands that pays the price.”
But Mr Stokes said the creation of a “stronger, better-resourced trust” would give it more power than the individual trusts would have had in the past.
Legislation for each of the three trusts would not be changed “at this stage” because people were “instinctively a bit nervous when anything happens in parks”, he said.
The directors of the new agency include Patrick St John from Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, Lyall Gorman from Parramatta Park and Julie Bindon from Western Sydney Parklands.
The new agency will also oversee Callan Park in the inner west, and Fernhill Estate, a heritage-listed 383-hectare property near Mulgoa on Sydney’s western fringe.
The government is injecting $10 million to revitalise Callan Park, which Mr Stokes described as a downpayment and a “statement of good faith”.
Greens MP for Balmain Jamie Parker said putting Callan Park on a similar footing to Centennial Park and other parkland was important as has it had “always been the forgotten space”.
“It’s a really important step forward for Callan Park and for the vision for this site that has been so sadly lacking for so many years,” he said of the cash injection.
Mr Parker said it was easy to be cynical about the government folding the three trusts into a new agency but he was prepared to “approach it with goodwill”.
Saving Moore Park chairman Michael Waterford said his concern was that the oversight of more of Sydney’s parkland would be further away from local communities.
“The devil is in the detail. But this is an opportunity for the government to actually make an announcement that positively impacts Moore Park both in terms of the removal of car parks and financially for the … master plan,” he said.
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Matt O’Sullivan is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.