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Council rezoning of Boomerang Park heritage-listed parkland challenged

EcoNetwork made this submission to the Hon. Mark Speakman MP, Minister for Environment and Heritage on 30 October 2015 regarding Lot 1 – DP1018979, Boomerang Park, Raymond Terrace.

EcoNetwork Port Stephens is a grassroots community-focused natural heritage and sustainable planning network of 25 community associations and eco-businesses with 22 years of activity in the Port Stephens Local Government Area.

In this activity, we have campaigned to defend national and marine parks, public parklands and recreational reserves against intrusive developer projects, sale and lease to private interests, and a prevalence of neglect.

Over the years we have never encountered a local council proposal to rezone and reclassify from community land to operational land anything like the proposed sale of 4.5 hectares of environmentally-sensitive and heritage-listed parkland in Raymond Terrace to private interests for development proposals including residential.

1. Neglect of the November 2000 Boomerang Park Plan of Management

Adopted by Council in November 2000, this Plan of Management contains proposals supported by the local Boomerang Park Resident’s Group of Raymond Terrace citizens.

This Plan, however, had been neglected by Port Stephens Council for a full 14 years. Now a November 2014 Master Plan is to include a private residential component, an out-sized Men’s Shed of excessive proportions and a number of questionable recreational facilities. The glaring excesses of this Master Plan require public scrutiny, sustainability assessment and appropriate amendment.

2. Town community in disbelief

There is disbelief that a Council of elected representatives to which the public looks for the protection and safeguard of our natural and cultural heritage, after abrogating that role and responsibility for 14 years, then proposes unacceptable encroachment on the Park’s proclaimed 1837 heritage with an equally unacceptable Master Plan.

This has motivated the local citizens of the Boomerang Park Resident’s Group to take up that challenge and the responsible custodial role it implies, in defence of the town’s heritage for the common good of Raymond Terrace.

3. Suspend and review Council’s 2014 Master Plan

The most sustainable features of the Boomerang Park Plan of Management have since been substantially negated by the excesses of the Council’s Master Plan of November 2014.

It is the implementation of this Master Plan that has caused much angst and opposition from and far beyond the local community, that a heritage listed parkland could be developed under the guise of an ‘upgrade’.

Implementation of this Master Plan must be suspended immediately pending a comprehensive review and the outcomes of the proposed Parliamentary Inquiry into Crown and Public Land Management. (See Item 7.)

4. This town of history and heritage needs local, committed custodians

Becoming a Public Reserve with the town’s Proclamation as a village 178 years ago in 1837, this Public Reserve was since gazetted in 1892, named Boomerang Park in 1914 and again gazetted in 1953 and 1977.

The Park’s 21.6 hectares (50 acres), has several historical references including the adjacent National Trust listed Historic Pioneer Cemetery with internments from the early 1800’s and has hosted many significant historical and other appropriate events. For example Australian Light Horse contingents for the Boer War (1880-81/1899-1902) trained there and it became a marshalling site for the troops of two world wars (1914-18 / 1939-45).

5. Environmental values – insensitive Council responses

The Park and its surrounding area is well known for hosting a diverse native wildlife including Koalas (Phascolarctus cinereus) and other vulnerable wildlife species among which is the Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostonius temporalis), with a well-known annual breeding colony now decimated with the removal of 3 nesting trees on 30th July 2015.

Many varieties of Owl can be sighted, notably the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) and Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae). All the above species are listed as vulnerable on Schedule 2 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. A long list of local native species that regard the Park and surrounds as permanent and foraging habitat is far too extensive to record here.

The five habitat and heritage-listed trees removed on July 30 – 3 Hoop Pine of around 120 years old and 2 eucalypt koala food trees – ranged in height from 18-5 metres. The Council’s Tree Clearing Method for Residential Development is undated and obviously compiled specifically and urgently for Boomerang Park; it is clearly flawed and must be revisited for a complete review.

The preservation and enhancement of both Park and surrounding habitat and native vegetation species is also vital for the visual and recreational values they provide for people as well as providing corridors for locally migrating wildlife.

6. Public misled by Council’s ‘under-utilised‘ claim

As with most public parklands being ‘under-utilised’ in 2015, this certainly wasn’t a deterring factor 178 years ago when the civic fathers proclaimed it a public parkland.

Unfortunately, such vision was extinguished in November 2014 when the Draft Master Plan was adopted in contradiction to the Council’s own economic and population objectives for the combined Raymond Terrace, Heatherbrae, Kings Hill and Tomago areas.

This district-wide area is referred to by Council as the future growth and commercial hub of Port Stephens amid visions of grandeur projecting the area, according to one councillor, becoming a city within 20 years.

Herein lies the contradiction: such a vision would require all the current public parklands and more to meet the needs of a future and much larger population, with the vision of 1837 negated by the blinkered vision of 2014-15.

7. A Parliamentary Inquiry into Crown and Public Land Management.

It has recently come to our notice that the NSW Legislative Council may soon be considering the petitioning for a Parliamentary Inquiry into Crown and Public Land Management.

This is highly relevant to the heritage-listed Boomerang Park’s 21.6 hectares, the Council’s unacceptable Master Plan and its proposed 4.5-hectare sell-off to private interests.

A petition calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry and moratorium on the reclassification, rezoning and sale of community lands will soon be considered by the Legislative Council.

It would be both prudent and appropriate that implementation of the Master Plan should be suspended pending the outcomes of this projected inquiry into how Crown and public lands, including Boomerang Park, are managed.

8. Community Forum July 26 endorses community group’s objections

“Totally dismissive of history and heritage, and ignoring its own Boomerang Park Plan of Management 2000 (BPPoM), the Port Stephens Council, under the guise of an upgrade, plans to rezone 4.5ha of this public parkland as a development site.

“This Community Forum condemns this proposal and calls for a complete withdrawal of the Council’s Draft Master Plan and that the Park be quarantined from future development, and demand Council’s correct compliance with the BPPoM to retain the Park’s dedicated purpose of Public Recreation.

“Such unacceptable intrusions into the public parklands of Raymond Terrace raise grave concern for all public parklands and open spaces across Port Stephens.”

Community Forum, Tomaree Community Centre Salamander Bay, Sunday 26th July 2015.

 Yours sincerely

Dr Quentin Espey, Acting President               Darrell Dawson, Coordinator.