Residents seek a moratorium of Camden Council's main street revamp plans

Stop the chop: President of the newly formed Camden Community Alliance Pieter Versluis (left) and secretary Peter Standen at the Oxley Street intersection in Camden where Jacaranda trees will be cut down to make way for traffic lights. Picture: Anna Warr
Stop the chop: President of the newly formed Camden Community Alliance Pieter Versluis (left) and secretary Peter Standen at the Oxley Street intersection in Camden where Jacaranda trees will be cut down to make way for traffic lights. Picture: Anna Warr

A group of residents have called on Camden Council to suspend its improvement plans for Camden’s CBD and carry out more ‘‘meaningful’’ consultation with the community.

They have formed the Camden Community Alliance – an incorporated group of about 55 members so far – to fight the council’s already approved town centre plans which include a decked car park on Oxley Street, traffic lights on Argyle Street and road widening that will see several jacaranda trees cut down.

The Alliance will hold a public meeting next Wednesday, March 25 at the Camden Civic Centre and president Pieter Versluis is encouraging residents who oppose the council’s plans to attend.

Mr Versluis said the Alliance was born from ‘‘community frustration with council’s orchestrated marketing of its current proposals’’ – and its fast increasing member base was representative of the groundswell of opposition in the community to the council’s plans.

He said while the council had consulted the community, it had not ‘‘adequately engaged’’ the community.

Mr Versluis said the 570 submissions made to council was less than 10 per cent of the number of people who lived in the local government area.

‘‘That’s an infinitesimal number. In fact, I still have people who have said to me they don’t even know what the council is doing,’’ he said.

Mr Versluis said the council’s procedure – in particular asking closed questions in its survey – was ‘‘cynical’’ and he criticised the council for not being more explicit about its plans to remove Jacaranda trees from Argyle Street.

‘‘We’re asking for a moratorium; that would be a sign that council is genuine in seeking community input,’’ he said.

‘‘And we ask that council wait until it moves out of Camden in June 2016 before acting. Council’s own consultants said wait until council moves before doing anything because the impact of the departure on the community has to be assessed.

‘‘We believe the consultation period was too short and without sufficient, significant detail. It’s being treated a fait accompli.’’

Mr Versluis said the Camden Chamber of Commerce was on side with the Alliance.

‘‘Council has relinquished its membership of the Chamber. Is that a sign of meaningful community engagement when you haven’t engaged the very organisation that is responsible for commerce in Camden?,’’ he said.

‘‘There will be great disruption to businesses when this commences.’’

The Alliance last week sought an urgent meeting with mayor Lara Symkowiak and invited her to speak at next week’s public meeting. She told the Advertiser she would not be able to attend.

‘‘Council undertook an extensive eight week community consultation process and received almost 600 formal responses which was a huge response. Every medium available was used by council to consult with our community,’’ she said.

‘‘Council adopted each initiative due to a majority support from the submissions received.

"I respect those with different opinions however a majority of residents were supportive of council’s plans. Council recently spoke with over 80 Argyle Street businesses to update them about the upgrade works and the feedback was very positive.’’

Cr Symkowiak suggested the public meeting be moved to April 20 ‘‘to ensure all interested parties could attend’’ and offered to pay for the cost of a room at the Civic Centre.

The Alliance will hold an information stall on Thursday on the corner of John and Argyle streets, Camden from 1pm-5pm.

The March 25 public meeting is at 7pm. Details: 0417281934.

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