Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Locals win over Fitzroy Gardens but fake consultation reigns

Word has already raced around Kings Cross: After a massive local campaign of opposition, Clover Moore has backed down over Council proposals to redevelop Fitzroy Gardens and nearby Lawrence Hargrave Reserve.

Ms Moore made the surprise announcement via a Lord Mayoral Minute at last night's Council meeting.

You can read the details via the link above, but the language and content of the Minute reinforces the fake consultation processes Ms Moore has perfected since becoming Lord Mayor in 2004.

The minute opens with yet another lengthy spiel about the enthusiastic support the project had according to Council's consultation process. This support of course was never there, but was spun like fairy floss out of cherrypicked snippets and Council's biased analysis of feedback.

A prime example was the reporting on the first consultation session in 2008, when we residents were asked to use sticky notes to post what we liked or didn't like about the Gardens as they are. An avalanche of comments appeared on the 'like' board with relatively few on the 'don't like' board. Among them were many notes saying 'Leave it alone' or 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

A dispassionate Council might have interpreted this as community support for the Gardens as they are, especially as the leading 'Don't like' was the Ibis poo which the new plans did not address anyway.

But Council classified the comments according to theme, from 28 complaints about Ibis poo down to 11 similar comments on other matters. Tellingly the 13 comments saying 'Leave it alone' were not themed, instead being scattered among other categories or relegated to 'Miscellaneous'.

To find them, one had to delve into the depths of the report to read the actual comments verbatim.

Then in the next round of 'consultation', residents were given feedback forms which asked only which of three designs we liked. The issue of whether the project went ahead at all had vanished.

At this point I left the meeting (at which residents were not given an opportunity to speak to the audience, that privilege being reserved for Clover and her minions) along with several others. Sadly most of those attending, trusting in our democratic process, went ahead and commented, unaware of the trap laid for them.

Then there was a third public meeting along the same lines where a final design was presented, Council staff making me see red when they reported on feedback under the modern cliché "What you told us you wanted".

"You told us you wanted the trees preserved." said an unctuous staffer, leaving most of the audience under the impression that the new plan would respect that.

In fact Council's tree removal diagram, not provided at the meeting, showed by far the majority of the trees in the park would go and their Arborist's report, also not provided to the meeting, showed that even the grand old trees allowed to stay would be put at risk by the excavations.

At no stage were we told that the Gardens were listed as having both state and local significance, and nor were we told about the groundbreaking design of the City's first landscape architect, Ilmar Berzins who designed the Gardens in the late '60s. Nor were we told that approximately 5,000 convict bricks in the Gardens would go. The bricks in fact were not mentioned at all.

Unsurprisingly, the feedback from this session was also somewhat positive.

That's when a few locals decided 'enough's enough' and started an email campaign urging people to register their opposition. A trickle became an avalanche and locals organised, resulting in a petition of over 3,500 signatures, a new website giving the true facts, a well attended public rally in the Gardens and wide media coverage including in the Sydney Morning Herald.

But Council ignored all this, conducting their own separate comment process. They were puzzled to find comments now ran  overwhelmingly against them. One report made an excuse for this, suggesting the turnaround was because the latter commenters did not have the benefit of seeing the nice colour A1 artists impressions of the proposals, implying that no-one could object to these pretty pictures.

During the rally, Council had a stall spruiking the project, at which staff blatantly lied to people, claiming only four trees would go. When we showed them their own tree diagram, they backpedalled with weak excuses, one relatively innocent younger staff member visibly shocked when shown the duplicity of her superiors.

Since the public were apprised of the facts about the Gardens, opinion has remained steadily against the project, showing the stark difference between Council's spin and proper information.

At the recent state election, Ms Moore's vote dropped by an alarming 25% at the Potts Point polling booth, 24% at St Canices in Rushcutters Bay and 8% in the strongly Housing Commission dominated Woolloomooloo. No doubt this was also because of public disgust at Clover's ruthless demolition of the caretaker's cottage by the tennis courts in Rushcutters Bay and eviction of popular coach/manager Rory Miles.

The next Council election is a year away and many think Ms Moore's backdown has that election in mind where the loss of only on of her team of six would make it necessary to use her casting vote more often, and the loss of two would remove the majority she has enjoyed since taking office.

Then, at least, we might get some real debate in Council and some handbrakes applied to the Ms Moore's present runaway authority which, at least in this case, has clearly been overstepped.

Now if only she would admit that her consultation is more like dictation and get real about it! You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time but never all of the people all the time!

Stop Press: A Council media release just issued outlines significant work that will be done to the gardens. Comment on the Fitzroy Gardens website.

The MR continues the fairy floss with statements like: "Those plans were drawn up following years of community feedback." Hmmmn.

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