Hundreds back Community Alliance's call for urgent stop to Camden CBD works

Hundreds of people packed into a meeting room at the Civic Centre for the Camden Community Alliance public meeting to protest Camden Council's plans for the CBD.
Hundreds of people packed into a meeting room at the Civic Centre for the Camden Community Alliance public meeting to protest Camden Council's plans for the CBD.

The Camden Community Alliance says it has the backing of hundreds of residents in calling on Camden Council to ‘‘urgently defer’’ its works planned for the CBD.

A resolution supporting a moratorium was unanimously passed at a public meeting last Wednesday night with residents agreeing the council had not effectively engaged with them.

Now the alliance’s supporters want mayor Lara Symkowiak to raise their resolution in a mayoral minute at the next council meeting for councillors to vote on what should happen next.

More than 350 people last week packed into the Camden Civic Centre, forcing organisers to hastily find a larger room to accommodate the crowd.

President Pieter Versluis told the crowd the alliance had engaged more residents in the six weeks since it was formed than the council did in two years of discussing its plans for the CBD.

He said the more than 1400 signatures on its petition in a few short weeks was far more than 587 responses the council received when it surveyed the community over eight weeks last year.

Mr Versluis received cheers of support from the crowd when he spoke about the public’s objection to a decked car park on Oxley Street, narrower lanes, the removal of four jacaranda trees and traffic signals on Argyle Street.

But the loudest applause came when he delivered this message to the council: ‘‘Stop what you’re doing, declare a moratorium and engage with us.’’

Secretary Peter Standen said the Alliance wasn’t against all of council’s proposals but said: ‘‘We’re saying talk to us to get the best solution for Camden.’’

Maryann Strickland from the Camden Chamber of Commerce said council’s plans were ‘‘ad hoc and ill thought out’’ and not recommended by consultants. She also questioned the validity of council’s claim that it had overwhelming public support.

Mr Versluis suggested the council host an international competition to attract innovative ideas from urban planners for a visionary concept for the CBD.

One resident said: ‘‘The problem is council is voting on party lines and not considering the community’’, while another added: ‘‘This plan smacks of amateurism.’’

Camden MP Chris Patterson said if he was returned after Saturday’s election he would take the residents’ concerns to the council ‘‘to see if we can get better outcomes’’.

In a statement to the meeting, mayor Lara Symkowiak repeated her stance that council adopted its plans only after carrying out an ‘‘extensive community engagement process’’.

Mr Versluis said the alliance was planning a second public meeting, probably in May.

The Advertiser asked mayor Lara Symkowiak if she would consider the Alliance’s request to defer works in the CBD to further consult the community and whether she accepted the view there wasn’t such overwhelming support for council’s plans as she had stated? This and other questions have gone unanswered. Instead, Cr Symkowiak emailed a five paragraph response that reiterated her request for a change in meeting date so she could attend and that the community had an opportunity to respond to the plans during the ‘‘extensive eight week consultation’’ period. Here are our questions and her responses:

The Camden Community Alliance public meeting was moved into a larger room at the Camden Civic Centre to accommodate the large number of attendees.

The Camden Community Alliance public meeting was moved into a larger room at the Camden Civic Centre to accommodate the large number of attendees.

We asked:

1. In light of the overwhelming support of the Alliance’s resolution to request council defer its town centre works so as to engage with the community and Camden Chamber of Commerce, will you now consider the Alliance’s request for a moratorium?

2. In your previous responses to our newspaper on this issue, you said "a majority of residents were supportive of council’s plans". Do you accept there isn’t such overwhelming support for council’s plans?

3. Is there a reason why the town centre improvement works cannot be deferred for a fresh round of community consultation involving the members of the Camden Community Alliance?

Cr Symkowiak said:

On Friday I was in receipt of a letter from the Camden Community Alliance secretary. I will be discussing this with my council colleagues and will reply directly to the Alliance. 

As I was unable to attend last week’s meeting, I made the offer of another meeting date to the Alliance (Monday 20 April). This would allow time to advertise the meeting and ensure all interested parties, including the business community, could attend. 

This date would be suitable given it does not conflict with Easter, school holidays, Chamber meetings, service club meetings, Council meetings or on a Thursday night, which is often a busy trading night for businesses. I offered the Alliance a room at the Civic Centre at Council’s cost and requested all interested stakeholders be invited – the Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, Council, residents and businesses. 

To date, the Alliance has not advised if they wish to take up my offer of a meeting on 20 April.

Council adopted the town centre works in November 2014 after an extensive 8 week consultation. The results of exhibition showed community support for each of the town centre initiatives and as such, over the last 4 months, Council has progressed to execute those plans.

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