About 2 years ago I lived in this beautiful leafy corner of Australia called Cooks Hill in NSW. Its an inner city suburb of Newcastle, about 2 hours north of Sydney on the NSW coast. Being a Sydney girl originally, Newcastle always attracted negative reviews. At first I couldn’t actaully believe I was moving there. And I have to admit it took several months, and a baby later to realise its potential! But Cooks Hill, oh the beautiful leafy Cooks Hill with stacks of parks, a few minutes walk to the beach, rows and rows of victorian terrace houses, the library, art gallery, cafes …. it is a spectacular suburb to live in. When we lived there I knew whole heartedly that if this suburb was in Sydney or Melbourne we would have been priced out many moons ago, but here I was able to enjoy it now.
Despite the obvious gentrification, Newcastle still gets a bad wrap. And I have to laugh to myself when I see it. Little do those big city slickers know what’s hidden up there.
We have been back in Victoria now for 18months, but my beloved is still on the Transition Newcastle mailing list, and he gave me the heads up of a significant issue that’s happening right in my old ‘hood.
The City of Newcastle Council passed a motion last week to sell a small pocket of public land in Cooks Hill which was being used as a community garden. The council did this without any public consultation and behind closed doors (the public wasn’t allowed to the meeting to voice any objections when the motion was passed).
It was actaully on this small piece of land that my beloved, our 9month old son and myself did some guerrilla gardening seed bombing style a few years ago…
There is of course now a public out cry and residents have a formed an action group around it. This area of Newcastle isn’t unused to public protests with the beautiful Morton Bay Figs being protected by the public when the council decided they needed to remove them all .. the public won, for now.
Now the motion to sell this very small, challengingly steep piece of land in Cooks Hill isn’t news worthy or very surprising as the land is valuable, its in an area of Newcastle that is pretty desirable due to its central location. But what is concerning is that this land is a public asset therefore the public needs to make a decision on what to do it with it. The very action of making the decision to sell behind closed doors seems, to me, to be deceitful. As if the councilors knew that what they were doing wasn’t necessarily in the interests of the public.
What really gets me going though is the comments from the Mayor …
But Newcastle Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy says council did not have to contact nearby residents and it has been known for a while they wanted to sell the land.
“If you’re neighbour sells his house, he doesn’t have to tell you he’s selling his house,” he said.
“It’s a commercial decision and there’s no rule or regulation.
Councillor McCloy says the sale of the land will benefit the entire city.
“But it’s an asset that the city needs to sell, the state of our infrastructure backlog is massive, and this money will go towards fixing our infrastructure backlog.”
Of course a neighbour doesn’t need to inform others if they are going to sell their land .. because its theirs. In case the Mayor didn’t know public land belongs to everyone, not just the person with a fancy title, sitting in a funny round building in town. Therefore the decision should be made in public.
The other thing that deeply concerns me is that public land isn’t there for profit making. Public land is there for people to enjoy. Its spaces to relax in, exercise in, meet people in. Particualrly in an area of high density, like Cooks Hill (or Glebe in Sydney, or Fitzroy in Melbourne) residents need access to public land to just be in. This seems to be something city planners of the past understood so well, where massive areas of land were put aside for everyone to access. There are examples of this in every major city around the world – think Hyde Park, Central Park… Why is it that those people who ‘represent’ the public now seem to have missed this? Why is it that those in public office seem to be pushing self interest before the common good?
I’m not too sure what ‘infrastructure backlog’ is, or what the Lord Major is referring to but I think its worth mentioning some amazing initiatives that are coming out of Newcastle at the moment that is hoping to breath new life into this once bustling town. Check out Renew Newcastle, This is Not Art and Novacastian Files. Oh and if you are in the ‘hood, check out the Newcastle guide for some hot spots to enjoy.
I would love to hear what you think about all of this .. you passionate gardeners on public land.
PS – Stay tuned for progress updates and an interview with the brave community gardeners from Cooks Hill.