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The Open Space Strategy

Residents respond to the Draft Open Space Strategy.

At the council meeting on 25 March 2014, public responses to the Council's Open Space Strategy were presented.

The public submissions can be found in 'Public Submissions regarding the Draft Open Space Strategy. Attachment 1.' which is included in the full minutes of the March 25, 2014 meeting between pages 508 to 540.)

I chose one reserve from the Open Space Strategy document to look at it in some detail. As with many council documents, relevant details are not explained fully or clearly. And what is explained in the Open Space Strategy is framed in such a way to support Manningham councils environmental concerns. It takes a little bit of detective work to see just what Manningham council chooses to leave out of it's reports and why.

 

Penderel Reserve.

There are many reserves and parks listed in the Open Space Strategy, I will focus on just one, Penderel Reserve. Penderel Reserve is a rather undeveloped reserve hidden away in Wonga Park.

This is what the council has to say about it in the Open Space Strategy:

Penderel Reserve is a large reserve of 2.85 hectares comprising a composite of land parcels linking Penderel Court, Bessa Court and Jumping Creek Road. A natural gully (also containing an underground Council drain) runs east through the Reserve from the Bessa Court court bowl and exits the Reserve at the Penderel Court court bowl, although the central 100 metres of the gully is through private property. The smaller western end (Bessa Court) is linked to the larger body of parkland by a narrow 3.5 metre wide corridor between private properties. The pedestrian connection between the two parts is difficult as it requires walking up or down a steep slope at the Bessa Court end. Horses informally use the Reserve as a connection between Homestead Road and Dudley Road.

The first concern I have is that from reading this, I get the impression that the Council regrets somewhat that the middle section of the reserve is in private hands.

Next, regarding the sloping land. Penderel Reserve has a natural gully running through it. The land slopes upwards on either side as you move away from the gully. To walk between the two parks you navigate a slope at each end of the reserve because the connecting path is up on one side of the gully. However these inclines are not that hard to walk up and down and are very typical of other slopes on other walking paths in this hilly section of Wonga Park. For instance, to leave the reserve by walking to Jumping Creek Road you need to walk up a very similar but much longer slopel.

Third, concerning horses using the reserve as an informal track. The main reason why horse riders use the reserve as a thoroughfare is because Manningham Council banned horses on Jumping Creek Road. Apparently the council was worried that horses might get startled by passing cars. At one stage, Manningham Council was going to build a concrete path through the reserve for the horses to walk on. This off course would have been impractical and ineffective. I understand that Manningham Council has since banned horses from using Penderel Reserve. However, there still are many people in the nearby area who keep horses. In fact, one of the properties bordering Penderal Reserve still has stables.

 

The council continues:

The Reserve’s primary value is for its ecological value and remnant vegetation, although it also has significant recreational value due to its size and road connections. The western end of the Reserve is within the Clifford Park/ Bend of Isles, Biosite 2 and is considered very high priority in Council’s Healthy Habitats Bushland Management Strategy 2012. However, the open space and bushland area at the Penderel Court end is suitable for unstructured bush play activities.

People might draw the wrong conclusions here.

We are told about the remnant vegetation at the Bessa Court end. And, from my examination, that section of the reserve does have what appears to be undisturbed native vegetation on it.

On the other hand, Manningham council does not mention remnant vegetation at the Penderel Court end of the reserve. It is possible that some residents would assume that 'remnant' vegetation can also be found at the Penderel Court end of the reserve.

However this would be incorrect. I doubt very much that there is any 'remnant' vegetation at the Penderel Court end of the park. There is, off course, native vegetation at the Penderel Court end but this is not 'remnant' native vegetation.

Originally the Penderel Court end of the reserve was privately owned. This whole area, in particular the area around the gully where you now see native vegetation, was used to grow flowers commercially. There was a creek running along the gully and a water dam where the native vegetation can now be found. The native vegetation that you see at the Penderel Court end of the reserve has either grown back naturally or has been planted. None of it is 'remnant' vegetation.

The only area that might have some 'remnant' vegetation is the narrow piece of land that connects the reserve to Jumping Creek Road. That part of the reserve does have some smaller native trees on it and it has a walkway down the middle. Largely it is overrun by oxalis and other introduced grasses. You might find one or two pieces of remnant vegetation here but you need to be very lucky. If the council wanted to protect any remnant vegetation in this piece of the reserve, they could easily do so. But nothing is being done. It is being left to be overrun by weeds. It is quite likely that there is either no remnant vegetation still there or if it is, it is in such small quantities that it is hard to justify the effort and money to preserve it.

This is why Manningham council does not want to specifically mention the issue of remnant vegetation at the Penderal court end of the reserve. However, later on in their report, Manningham council uses the issue of remnant vegetation generally to support it's plan to  acquire the private land between the Penderel Court and Bessa Court sections of the reserve. Manningham council intends to acquire the land between the two ends of the reserve to build a pathway down the middle and eliminate the need to walk up and down hills. This would probably bring more foot traffic to the park and will make the park much more accessible as a thoroughfare for locals.

I examined the privately owned land between the two ends of the reserve. There is no remnant native vegetation on it that I could see. There are some eucalyptus trees but the rest of the private property is grassed with introduced lawn or pasture grasses.

Manningham council's argument that they need to acquire this private land to protect native remnant vegetation seems, to me at least, to be flawed.

 

The council continues:

A Concept Plan was prepared in 2001 that proposed path networks linking the three entrances, seating, tree planting and fencing at the entrances. Only the fencing and tree planting were subsequently undertaken. Existing paths are entirely informal and there are no other constructed facilities. Signage at the Jumping Creek Road entrance to improve community awareness and addressing encroachment issues from adjoining private properties are the main priorities for the Reserve.

Just what does the council mean by 'encroachment issues'?

I can think of two things. It could be that private land and domestic activities are too close to the the reserve and restrict the potential size of the reserve. Or there could be the issue of introduced plants from these private properties growing into the reserve.

If the council means either of these, it can be seen that neither is valid.

 

Do you know how the Penderel Court end of the reserve came to be in council hands? It was privately owned and used as a commercial flower garden. The owner prepared plans to subdivide and sell it. Apparently he had all the plans prepared but the Board of Works objected. They said the property was unsewered and he could only subdivide the land if he gave the majority of the land free of charge to Lilydale Council who was then responsible for this part of Wonga Park.

For some reason the owner agreed and subdivided. He sold only one or two blocks and the remainder was given free of charge to Lilydale council. When Manningham Council took over that part of Wonga Park, ownership of the reserve passed to them.

This suggestion that private properties 'encroaching' on the reserve is nonsense. If anything, the Board of Works guaranteed that a reserve encroached onto private property.

 

The other possible meaning of 'encroach' is that introduced non-indigenous plants are starting to grow into the reserve from the private property. I have walked the length of the reserve and noted the weeds I found. I found it to be largely overgrown with oxalis. In the public submissions, the residents also complain that the council does not manage the reserve well and point out that it has become infested with introduced grasses and weeds such as: pitosporum, honeysuckle, ivy, gorse, blackberries, scotch thistle and jasmine. In my investigation, I certainly found a lot of oxalis.

Residents say these introduced plants and weeds are making their way onto their own private land. However residents are putting in the time and effort required to control these introduced weeds (See Item 14.1 of residents submissions.)

So if the council is talking about introduced plants 'encroaching' on the council reserve, then they are being very one-eyed and are overlooking their responsibility and failure to control the introduced weeds on this reserve - land that they tell us has a high ecological value.

 

The council continues:

Consideration should also be given to Council acquisition of the northern part of the private properties at 14 and 20 Jumping Creek Road to better connect the two parts of the Reserve and to improve and protect the remnant vegetation

There is quite a bit we are not being told here.

First of all, the gully not only runs through the middle of the reserve but also through the middle of the private properties the council mentions. If the council wants to eliminate walking up and down slopes, as they say in their Open Space document, then they will need to continue the walking path along the gully and through land that is now privately owned.

Also the council has re-vegetated land at the Penderel Court end and have made a rather pleasant area with grassed walking paths along the gully. The walking paths end at the boundary fence with the private property. The situation is the same at the Bessa Court end. The walking path there also runs along the gully and ends at the boundary fence with the private property. It does not take much imagination to see what the council wants to do.

If the council wants to continue the public path along the gully, they effectively will split the two private properties in half and take around half the land of each privately owned block.

Again, the land the council wants would amount to half of each property. Fortunately for the residents, the Council cannot compulsorily acquire private land like the Federal government can. All the council can do is just 'ask' and sensibly, it seems, the residents have said 'no'. This, by the way, is another reason why local council must never be mentioned in the Australian constitution. If they are mentioned in the Constitution, they may obtain far greater powers to acquire land and residents would be at the mercy of these extremist environmentalists.

 

I have examined just one of the reserves listed in the councils Open Space Strategy document and found many important and relevant facts omitted resulting in a distorted perception of the issues at the reserve. It makes me wonder about how accurate and balanced the council document is when it comes to the the other reserves in Manningham.

Regarding the Penderel Court reserve, the impression I get is that the Open Space Strategy document is not really about facts, preservation and usage at the reserve. Rather it is about promoting the council's environmental agenda for this reserve.

This is not necessarily a  not a bad thing. But it becomes a concern when the driving force behind these council documents is an obsessive environmentalism that promotes actions which are not justified when considered in the light of the full facts.

Also it seems to me that the Open Space Strategy document is also being used to rally residents concerned about the environment behind the council agenda for these reserves.

 

So how much Open Space is there in Manningham?

Let us now turn to the Open Space Strategy document as a whole.

What do you think of when you think about Open Space Land in Manningham? Do you think of parklands, trees, gardens, wetlands and so on?

You would be mistaken if you did.

The question really is, 'Just what does the council regard as being Open Space Land'?

See page 8 of 'Open Space Strategy 2013' which can be found in the minutes of the 29 October 2013 meeting, starting at page 4955.

Open Space Definitions

Public Open Space is defined as publicly owned outdoor land that is open for public access and public recreation including:

Walking and cycling

Nature appreciation

Social activities (picnic facilities)

Informal Sporting activity

Play (playspaces)

Structured sport (pavilions/stadiums and sports grounds)

Bushland conservation

Public Open Space is also home to the infrastructure required to house and run such activities:

Libraries

Preschools

Community Halls

Underground services

Drainage creeks/retarding basins/overland flow paths

Water storage - Dams and water tanks

Water purification – wetlands/bio filtration systems/rain gardens

Electricity transmission lines

Mobile phone towers

Car parks to service open spaces.

 

Is this the kind of 'open space' you were thinking of?

Take for instance land over which Electricity transmission towers are placed. I suppose it is land accessible to the public. But I have never seen anyone playing any sport or having a picnic or barbeque on land under transmission lines. Many people have health questions when it comes to being so close to such power lines.

Also consider land used for water storage tanks. Again I suppose it is open space but does the public have easy access to such land?

Also consider child care facilities. The land on which these are built is classified as 'Open Space' and no doubt many people have access to this space. But not all members of the public do. To test this out, have one of the activities the council lists above in a council-run child care facility. For example have a picnic at one unannounced and see what happens.

Also there are drains, mobile phone towers, narrow strips of land for power lines, and so on. All are added to the list of Open Space land. Also there are libraries, community halls which most would not think of as being Open Space land.

Also, by the council's definition given above, footpaths and nature strips alongside public roads could easily be included as 'Open Space land' and probably are.

With a little stretch, possibly even the larger road roundabouts could be included. One larger roundabout has public art on it and probably is included in the list of open space land. If you think that a roundabout with public art on it should be classified as open space land, would you have a picnic there or have an 'informal sporting activity' there like playing with a ball or a frizbee? Not very practical is it.

 

The council document then goes on to say this:

Within the city of Manningham Open Spaces include:

Council owned or managed land used as public open space.

Land owned or controlled by State Government authorities i.e. Parks Victoria or Melbourne Water, which is available to the general public for recreational purposes.

Council owned or managed community spaces in and around activity centers and community hubs.

 

Open Space Land is not just land that is owned by the council. It can be land owned or managed by the council and also land that is owned or controlled by the state government.

In one sense this is right. The public has access to it and it is publicly owned.

However, does the council have a right to speak for it and include it in their list of Open Space Land? If they do, then such Open Space Land could, in the future, be closed to the residents without notice.

Please see item PV.1 in the submissions.

The council includes crown land it does not own or manage as part of it's Open Space.

In particular, the council includes 'Pettys Orchard' (note: not Petty's Reserve) which is run by Parks Victoria. The council thinks highly of it describing it as a 'reconstructed wetland' including a bird hide (where presumably you can observe the bird life without disturbing it.) There also appears to also be a path to this bird hide.

However the Parks Victoria ranger finds it necessary to point out that the bird hide is not being maintained nor is the path being maintained. The council was not aware of this, nor where they informed nor it appears even consulted. After all, the land is not theirs nor do they have a say in it's management.

And here-in lies the problem. Other authorities who own the land will make their own decisions about it's use and it's future. All Manningham Council can do is 'support in principle' suggestions relating to these park and reserve.

The bird hide and path is only a small matter.

There is land included as Open Space that is owned and managed by other Authorities that do not need to consult with the council. Should there be some new development in drainage, power transmission technology or even policy, then access to and use of the land could change without notice.

It may be Open Space by the councils definition, but the council does not have the right to 'speak for it'. It is questionable whether is should be included in the Council's Open Space reserves. It should probably be included in the State Government's list of land available to the public.

 

What our council appears to be doing is scraping together every bit of land they possibly can to increase the amount of open space land in the city of Manningham.

Why would the council want to do this? First, it does make the council and people think they are doing the right thing regarding their city. But it can also have other uses.

No doubt boosting the amount of open space land will be of great use to Manningham Council when it comes to managing and answering the concerns of residents as the population of Manningham increases dramatically in the next few years.

As you may know, high rise residential dwellings are planned to be built along the major roads and near the supermarkets throughout Manningham. Traffic congestion on Doncaster Road during the evening peak is going to be like Burke Street in the city. There are going to be a lot of residents who will either be asking questions or be very upset when the council finally makes good on these plans – at 'full buildout' as the council calls it.

It will be very useful for the council to have an inventory on hand showing Manningham to have a very high proportion of open space land.

So just how much can someone rely upon this strategy document to be an objective and reasonable assessment of the Open Space in Manningham? It seems to me that, like many government statistics and documents, it needs to be taken with a large grain of salt. The council has an agenda and is prepared to both frame information and bolster statistics that justify their agenda. The Open Space document is, to me at least, a distortion of the facts.

 

July 2014.

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