Parks at risk of commercialisation, sell-offs

Image: Alliance for Public Parklands/Facebook

At a time when parks and outdoor recreation has become more important, during the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis, five iconic parklands in Greater Sydney face the threat of commercialisation, privatisation and potential sell-offs.

A before the NSW Upper House will threaten Centennial Parklands, Callan Park, Fernhill Estate, Parramatta Park and Western Sydney Parklands because it allows the privatisation of lands and buildings via commercial leases for up to 50 years.

It also opens the door to commercialisation and inappropriate development, such as high rise hotels, business hubs and transport infrastructure, on the parklands.

It concentrates power in the newly-formed Greater Sydney Parklands (GSP) agency and undermines communities’ ability to object to over-commercialisation on parkland.

A campaign to defeat the draft bill has been launched by the Alliance for Public Parklands (APP), a coalition of community groups and individuals who have come together to protect significant parklands in the Greater Sydney Region.

APP brings together the Blacktown and District Environment Group, Friends of Callan Park, Centennial Park Residents’ Association, Friends of Fernhill and Mulgoa Valley and the North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group.

APP spokesperson Suzette Meade told Parra News on October 12 that we must not let “our public parklands fall into another web of legislation that permits further divestment and privatisation via ministerial consent. The community must be in control of our public green assets, not just offered a token advisory panel seat.”

APP has raised many concerns about the Bill including that it: provides no protections for Sydney’s five iconic parks and sets an alarming model for future public parklands across the state; gives the GSP sweeping and unprecedented powers without proper accountability or oversight; permits 25-year commercial leases without ministerial consent or up to 50 years with ministerial consent; gives the GSP power to compulsorily acquire public and private land and to form or participate in the formation of private subsidiary corporations and joint ventures; sidelines the community; concentrates too much power in the minister; and removes local councils from being a consent authority.

The APP is urging MPs to reject the bill and is calling for a Legislative Council inquiry into the GSP.

The draft exposure bill will embolden and empower lobbyists and developers, keen to get their hands on prime real estate. It also threatens the habitat and natural corridors these parks provide for wildlife and undermines biodiversity in our city.

Parramatta Park is home to 140 species of wildlife, including the threatened Grey-headed Flying-fox.

The park, and the Parramatta River that flows through it, provide welcome relief during the hot summers, helping cool the city down. Western Sydney generally experiences temperatures 6–10⁰ C higher than the east during extreme heat days. The number of days a year  has risen from an average of 9.5 days a year in the 1970s to 15.4 days a year in the last decade. By 2090, that could more than triple to a projected 52 days per year.

The draft bill is on exhibition until October 29.

[Click to find out more. Susan Price is running in the City of Parramatta local government election for .]