Princes Park — Optus versus residents
By Jeremy Smith
MELBOURNE — Princes Park, home to Carlton Football Club and a major park for local residents, has become a battleground between corporate supporters and community opponents of privatisation. In support of private redevelopment are Optus and the Carlton Social and Football Clubs.
Amendment L160 to the Planning and Environment Act was put to the unelected Melbourne City Council in 1994, opening up the possibility of private redevelopment of public land. The proposal was moved by the Carlton Social Club despite opposition from residents' groups.
Green Left Weekly spoke to Rosalyn Rogers from the Save Princes Park group about the implications of the proposal. "It's about the commercial aspect, not the AFL football aspect", she said.
The Social Club initially proposed to increase the stadium's capacity from 30,000 to 45,000 and to build 58-metre tower lights for night-time events. This would mean the loss of 12 metres of parkland on the eastern side of the park. The area covers the main community recreational facilities, including the local school's only playing ground.
Planning and environment minister Rob Maclellan appointed an independent panel to investigate the proposal. The panel vindicated the stand taken by community groups.
The panel found that "the plans were not for football, but for pay TV. For Optus, it could be an extremely cheap venue for pay TV events", said Rogers. "They keep saying that we have to take the 500,000 football patrons into account. The stadium draws an average crowd of 7000-10,000 ... there is no indication of an increase in demand for seating. So the argument that it is for football is nonsense."
In response, the social club and the council have renegotiated the proposal, ditching the tower lights, and applying for 35,000 capacity seating. The clubs and Optus have revamped their proposal and resubmitted it to the council.
The greatest concerns to the Save Princes Park group are the alienation and privatisation of public land, and the financial viability of the project. Rogers' said: "The finances are highly questionable ... we want to know who's going to foot the bill ... Is the Victorian government underwriting it if it fails? Is Optus?"
Supporters of the campaign are encouraged to attend the Melbourne City Council commissioners' meeting on June 20 at Melbourne Town Hall, where an amendment will be put which removes the legal requirement to get a building permit for the private redevelopment project.