Above: Michael Tennant, from the Department of the Chief Minister, speaking at last night’s council meeting.
By KIERAN FINNANE
“Anzac Oval is not for sale, it is not available. The request is to please move it off the table.”
This was Councillor Eli Melky’s starting point at last night’s council meeting, in response to an unscheduled NT Government deputation promoting plans to build at the site the National Aboriginal Art Gallery and create elsewhere a “new home for Rugby League and Rugby Union”.
There is “incredibly strong” feeling about Anzac Oval, said Cr Melky: “It’s overwhelmingly not supported in the community for … any project.”
The community’s attachment is not just about sport, but about its heritage and historical values and as a site for community events, creating many “good memories”, he said.
Supporting his contention was a packed public gallery, with at least 40 extra chairs brought in to accommodate the crowd (although some people present were there on behalf of various organisations, to pick up cheques for community development assistance grants).
In public question time, resident Yvonne Driscoll (in the foreground at left) asked specifically about car parking. Indicative plans for the gallery show that the existing carpark facing Wills Terrace, “where a lot of local people park”, will be removed to become green space.
Ms Driscoll also expressed a more general frustration with little detailed information to date on the project: “We are the people of Alice Springs,” she said. “A lot of people are here because we are in protest of the oval. We would like the support of the councillors in this because we are going to fight for it. What’s the reason? Why aren’t people taking into account what we think? It’s really important to us.”
Cr Melky foreshadowed that there will be applications for heritage listing of the whole area being proposed for the gallery, comprising the old high school site and the oval.
At the end of the session he presented a petition with 1200 signatures rejecting Anzac Oval as a site for the gallery (but supporting the project for elsewhere), as well as another smaller petition along the same lines. He said a Facebook poll registered 1600 against Anzac Oval, 46 for.
There were 649 responses to the government online poll, offering the choice of the Anzac Hill precinct (oval plus former high school) or the Desert Park as locations for the project: 39.1% of respondents voted for Anzac Hill, 32.2% voted for “other” and 28.7% voted for Desert Park.
The government’s delegate, Michael Tennant from the Department of the Chief Minister, remained cool under pressure. He described the government’s consultation as “extensive” although he acknowledged “a range of other people who chose not to have a say” in those processes. (This ignored the criticism by Philip Watkins, co-chair of the Steering Committee, that the online process had excluded many Aboriginal people.)
Mr Tennant presented the project in the context of others the government has for Alice Springs, all with hefty price tags. Apart from the gallery ($50m “downpayment”), and the National Indigenous Culture Centre ($20), they include the Alcoota fossil museum in the mall, originally announced as a $1.5m initiative, now at $4.5m.
Not included, as Cr Jimmy Cocking later pointed out, are projects that may not be “so iconic” but that Alice Springs needs, such as a youth drop-in centre and safe house for young people.
Investing in a new home for the Rugby codes was on the list, but without a dollar figure, which was questioned by Mayor Damien Ryan.
Mr Tennant declined to provide an estimate but gave repeated assurances that the government will pay for this “100%”, including the difference between what council pays now for the maintenance of Anzac Oval and what it will pay at the new facility. The government has promised that ratepayers will not be financially worse off, he insisted.
The Rugby facility will be not only new but better, he said, with two north-south facing ovals, as well as grandstands, change rooms, catering facilities and more.
Location options are a greenfield site at Bradshaw Drive and a site adjoining Centralian Middle School. An artist’s impression (right) suggests that the greenfield site is the open area across the drain that runs along the length of Bradshaw Drive.
Cr Melky listed the many recent upgrades to Anzac Oval, estimating their cost at some $6-7m. How can that kind capital investment not have been acknowledged in the government’s considerations? he asked.
The existing infrastructure was part of the government’s considerations, said Mr Tennant. More detailed work will show what can be re-used elsewhere and what can be used to support the gallery project and future community events on the site.
Cr Cocking, who was chairing the meeting, asked about the financial risk assessment for the project, including the risk associated with having gone against the advice of the Steering Committee (which recommended the Desert Park as the only suitable location).
Mr Tennant’s answer did not include any reference to the Steering Committee, but he did present a logic for the government’s preference for a CBD location: the Federal Government’s City Deals funding is focussed on CBDs (first cab off the rank is Townsville CBD), looking to diversify their economies, including by leveraging and catalysing private investment.
He said since the announcement of the Anzac Hill site as the preferred location for the gallery, there have been enquiries from a range of businesses about additional projects in Alice Springs, redeveloping and expanding existing privately owned sites.
He also dropped this piece of news: that government has given a commitment for the Anzac Hill precinct “to provide the opportunity for colocation of the National Indigenous Cultural Centre”. On the rejigged Arts Trail website, the NICC is now presented as “linked” to the gallery.
This was in response to a question from Cr Melky on whether plans for the gallery could go ahead on the government’s own land in the precinct (the high school site), without the oval, owned by council.
Above: Councillors Eli Melky and Marli Banks speaking with members of the public before last night’s meeting.
If council decides against negotiating with government on the Anzac Oval site, Mr Tennant said he would have to take that advice back to government.
Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni said the government needs to adapt its plans to “the community lifestyle that exists”, suggesting ways for the gallery to go ahead without the oval. As a former Rugby player, he extolled the quality of the oval, saying “you would never get a surface again like that to play on”, and that “the best [players] in the world” have said that.
Cr de Brenni was also critical of the concept of having two ovals and later said he was “disgusted” with the way the consultation on the whole gallery project had been conducted, including the absence of any detail on the Desert Park option.
Mr Tennant said he had just come from a meeting with the presidents of the two Rugby codes, consultations have been going on for a number of months and no concerns have been raised about having a new and better home for Rugby at an alternative site.
Cr Matt Paterson wanted a guarantee that Rugby would have its new home completed before any work began at Anzac Oval.
Mr Tennant assured him that would be the case.
Cr Jacinta Price, attending the meeting by phone, said she understood the importance of the gallery project but had concerns about ensuring that the community was taken along. She said she was not hearing anything about how the project would address the issues in the area of drinking and of misbehaviour by young people. She also wanted to know about the safety and security of artworks in relation to the flood risk for the site.
Mr Tennant said flood risk would be mitigated through design and engineering, and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) would be part of the masterplanning for the site.
Cr Marli Banks said she was unable to support any site for the gallery that “doesn’t talk to the needs of the broader community”, and that information to date and the time given to digest it hasn’t allowed the community to see how the gallery project fits into broader plans for the town and region as a whole.
Mr Tennant had said that the government and council had already established the Inland Capital Committee, co-chaired by Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Mayor Ryan. However, councillors seemed to be largely in the dark about this committee.
Cr Banks said it comes across that these plans are “put upon our community”, there is a sense of “this is happening to us, from government, from people that aren’t living in our community”.
The only person last night to express a positive personal preference for the gallery to be located at the Anzac Hill precinct was Cr Glen Auricht. He also said it would be “a travesty” if council did not get involved in an MOU with government to formalise how they work together, another prong of Mr Tennant’s presentation.
The discussion around the MOU by other councillors including the Mayor remained inconclusive.
Meanwhile, Mark Crees, Director of the Araluen Cultural Precinct, began work this week as Acting Director of the gallery’s Project Implementation team.
A large crowd attended the Town Council committee meeting last night, opposing the use of Anzac Oval as the site for the proposed National Indigenous Art Gallery.
An unscheduled government deputation told the meeting the government would pay for a new home for Rugby in its entirety and that it would be completed before work began at Anzac Oval. Two locations are being looked at, one a greenfield site (pictured) near The Gap, between Bradshaw Drive and the MacDonnell Range, the other adjacent to Centralian Middle School.
However, concerns are not restricted to Rugby.
KIERAN FINNANE went to the meeting. Her report will be published later this morning.