Precious parkland not for developers

ROBERT PRIDE is an Applecross resident who’s unhappy about the proposal to build a wave park next to the Swan River in Alfred Cove. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED he says Melville council is bending over backwards to help a developer, while ignoring risks to the river.

EVERY West Australian who loves the Swan River and wants its shores protected must join the fight to stop a hasty plan by Melville city council to hand over the control and use of a huge slice of riverside parkland at Alfred Cove to private business interests for the next 50 years.

Rather than doing its job as custodian of this priceless public land reserved for parks and recreation, the council is working in collaboration with a group of venture capital businessmen to build a 4.4-hectare artificial surfing complex on Tompkins Park which from the outside will resemble a sewerage treatment works.

Natural sanctuary

To make matters worse, the site fronts and adjoins a sensitive environmental estate – a highly important river conservation reserve of international significance as a natural sanctuary for native fauna and migratory birdlife.

Tompkins Park at Alfred Cove is not the place for a noisy, floodlit, industrial-like facility run for private business profit. The council has done nothing to help identify an alternative location, such as the Adventure World precinct, which would pose less or nil risk.

For nothing more than payment of an annual lease fee – a tiny fraction of its true land value – Melville council is facilitating an unsolicited proposal from private entrepreneurs, with no track record to speak of, for a facility which will;

• hijack valuable riverside parkland and sports fields from the public;

• undermine the protected river environment and nature reserve;

• ruin the area for the people who live in the vicinity; and,

• complicate an already overloaded Canning Highway traffic situation at North Lake Road.

The council also proposes to hand over its groundwater allocation, needed for irrigating Tompkins Park.

The surf park proponents say they will draw 20 million litres a year from under the parkland – quite probably an underestimate but almost certainly enough to put the delicate hydrology there at risk.

There are also concerns that because the park was a council rubbish tip in times past there is the risk of serious contamination issues to consider. An accidental leakage of chlorinated water from the surf park ‘lagoon’, akin to unanticipated problems at two other artificial parks opened in recent times overseas, would be disastrous for the Swan River.

Melville council, however, seems untroubled at these concerns and is is clearly positioning itself to fast-track a development application through the planning approval process on a path of least resistance.

It is counting on the all-powerful Development Assessment Panel to trump the views of government agencies with a stake in it, including the WA Planning Commission, the Department of Parks and Wildlife (incorporating the Swan River Trust), the Department of Environment and Main Roads.

The council is also being accused of stage managing genuine input from ratepayers and residents.

At a special meeting of electors held on January 23 at the council offices, a motion from the floor requiring the council to haul off progressing the plan was supported resoundingly by at least 80 per cent of the 600 people present.

On the grounds that he was not sure of the votes of some latecomers outside the room, for whom the council had not brought enough eligible voting cards, the mayor stalled declaring the result and let the motion lapse until a later date when a postal ballot could be held.

The public is entitled to be up in arms about the haste with which the council appears to be accommodating the developer. It has even adopted, with some editing, the proponents’ business plan, which it is advancing as its own.

Submissions from the public, called for over Christmas and the holiday season and which closed on January 27, were only permitted to speak to the business plan.

Unbelievably, the council has accepted a 3000-signature petition from the developer, gathered by canvassers believed to have been paid $1 per signature, whereas 120 letters of objection from members of the Swan Estuary Restoration Group was dismissed as one letter.

The community did not ask for an artificial surf wave facility at Alfred Cove. Locating it there makes no sense, except to the proponents and to the bean counters at Melville council.

Remediated wasteland

Wavepark Group, a private venture capital company, has advanced similar proposals for Sydney and Melbourne, which are yet to be commenced.

The site it has proposed for Sydney is a large car park on remediated industrial wasteland beside the redundant Olympic Park in Sydney’s west. In Melbourne, it has plans to lease land next to Tullamarine Airport. These sorts of locations would seem appropriate.

Why then would Western Australia allow one to be built on the fragile banks of the Swan River on prime public parkland next to a precious conservation area of international importance?

Community groups are not opposed to the idea of an artificial ‘surf park’ – just not at Alfred Cove!

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