Newcastle Council has thrown its weight behind a campaign to prevent a housing development from going ahead on a green at the Mayfield Bowling Club, opposing any residential or private development in Dangar Park.
Labors and Greens councillors voted down the Liberals and Independents, who argued the council should not interfere in what was essentially a matter between the bowling club and the state government, because the park was on Crown land.
Cr Therese Doyle (Greens), who put the motion forward, said it was about not only protecting the interests of neighbouring residents, but about defending the principle of retaining Crown land in public hands.
“This is a test case for cash-strapped clubs which are using companies like Touchstone for commercial advice and to develop and privatise public land to get themselves out of financial strife,” she said.
“Councils and the community will need to pay serious attention to how the new Crown Land Management Bill will affect the future use of and public access to large tracts of public land when it is proclaimed."
But Cr Brad Luke (Liberal) said the council was going beyond its remit with the motion.
“What we’re actually doing is discussing land that is not owned by us…it simply has nothing to do with us,” he said.
“One of the major causes of unaffordable housing is the constant tieing up of land.”
There was confusion over whether the council could have an interest as the trustee of Dangar Park. Waratah Municipal Council was originally appointed trustee but council officers could not ascertain whether that responsibility was transferred to Newcastle Council after the organisations amalgamated.
But Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said it was “absolutely” the responsibility of the council to look at how public land was used, especially given the “patchwork quilt” of Crown land across the city.
“If I was a local resident and had a park like Dangar Park in my neighbourhood that I thought was being used for public recreation...I would not for one second think that all of a sudden there’s going to be a dense residential development popping up on one of those bowling greens,” she said.
Cr Nelmes warned that as housing density increased in inner suburbs like Mayfield, the provision of public open space would become even more important.
“On the edge of Dangar Park is actually a long-term, already zoned, high density corridor,” she said.
Cr Andrew Rufo (Independent) rejected a suggestion by Cr Declan Clausen (Labor) that the situation could be likened to allowing residential development in Lambton Park.
“[Lambton Park] is used for sport activities every weekend...what we're talking about is an area that isn't being utilised,” Cr Rufo said.
“If these people – whether it be a bowling club or whether it be a mum or dad – if they have a right to apply then they should.”
It came as the company that conceived the proposal – Touchstone Property Solutions – accused a residents’ group of waging a “misleading scare campaign.”
In a statement to the Herald, general manager Steve Bowmaker denied the company was a property developer and said there had been no decision by the club to do anything other than research its options.
“There has been no approach or discussion with council of any kind,” he said.
“If the club ever, at some point in the future, decide to do anything then they will conduct a full community consultation, as they should.
“It is unfortunate that a small group of people have decided to make judgement on the club without any understanding or consideration of the truth.”