By Jim Piotroski
SYDNEY — Just over one year ago, two parks at the corner of Albert St and Erskineville Road were put up for sale. Local residents have campaigned to save them ever since.
The Roads and Traffic Authority purchased the parks 15 years ago for road widening, plans for which were dropped in 1991. Over the past 15 years the land has been maintained as parkland by the South Sydney Council. In 1991, the council had the opportunity to rezone the land as green space but decided against it because this would have meant buying the sites from the RTA at a price rumoured to be $600,000.
Residents have opposed the sale of the parks because it would mean the loss of 40% of the open space in Erskineville precinct.
Throughout the campaign, the local Save the Erskineville Parks Committee has been supported by the South Sydney Council, local Labor politicians and the leadership of the state Labor opposition. The Building Trades Group of Unions has also supported the campaign through the imposition of interim green bans.
Sadly, despite the opposition, it seems likely that the parks will be sold to the St Vincent de Paul Society within the next couple of weeks. The first attempt to auction the parks was unsuccessful when potential buyers were scared off by the weight of community opposition.
It was in this context that St Vincent de Paul shrewdly arranged to buy the parks at the bargain basement price of under $400,000. They put a compromise deal to the local residents that they would build on the larger park and leave the smaller one as parkland. A public meeting called by South Sydney Council to discuss this deal voted unanimously to oppose any development of either park.
St Vincent de Paul have federal funding to build a hostel for frail aged men. The funding, however, is not enough to purchase a site in their preferred area of Woolloomooloo. Local residents have stressed that
they are not opposed to such a facility being built in their area but that it should not be done at the expense of the rapidly dwindling green space.
Members of the Save the Erskineville Parks Committee have met with St Vincent de Paul and tried to convince them that they should not build on parkland in a suburb with less open space per 1000 people than any other in NSW and have lobbied the federal government for additional funding so that St Vincent de Paul might purchase a more appropriate site.
Since additional funding has not been forthcoming, it seems certain that the St Vincent de Paul Society will close the deal with the RTA.
Meanwhile the Building Trades Group of Unions has reaffirmed its commitment to the interim green bans, and the Save the Erskineville Parks Committee has been organising a last ditch letter writing campaign to the minister for roads, Bruce Baird. Readers are urged to send letters opposing the sale of the parks to Bruce Baird, Parliament House, Macquarie St, Sydney.