1992 conflict

OH REID 1992002

Source: Trish O’Rourke, 1995, Senior Environments and Communities Book 3, McGraw Hill

The O. H. Reid dispute is a local one. The reserve is located in Chatswood West on the lower north shore of Sydney. It was declared a reserve forty-seven years ago and is sur­rounded by bushland, a valuable oasis for fauna and flora in a sea of housing and trans­port links. For many years it has been used for numerous sports and family activities by people in the local area.

Conflict erupted in 1992 when two north Sydney hockey clubs, after many months of preparation, forwarded a development appli­cation to Willoughby council to change the land use of the reserve. The proposal was for a S400 000 all-weather playing field with artificial turf plus all the attendant facilities, including six light towers for night-time hockey. The pro­posal included an exclusive lease for ten years plus a ten-year option to extend.

The response was immediate. Residents grouped together and registered as an associa­tion. With only fourteen days in which to object to the plan, it was critical to get organised and to establish priorities.

There are three key players in this conflict. First, the residents who, wholeheartedly objected to the development. They were joined by local sporting clubs who use the facility regularly. Second, the two hockey clubs and their members who thought the reserve ideal for their purposes and were prepared to spend large amounts of money on the development with the lease and option. Third, the Willoughby Councillors, some of whom sup­ported the development and some of whom objected.

The scene was set for conflict and neither side was prepared for negotiation. The hockey club members claimed they were being treated like ‘lepers’, not potential Olympic medallists. Their previous application to play at Cammeray had already been refused, while the resident action group feared for the loss of their reserve to the exclusive use of a few who were not even locals.

The impacts can be categorised as social, eco­nomic and environmental, as well as the emer­gence of a local protest movement.

Socially the development of O. H. Reid reserve into a synthetic turf playing field for hockey would directly impact on the lifestyles of the locals and regular sporting groups. The development would change the nature of its use. Local cricket matches, school sports days, family picnics, jogging and just walking the dog would never be the same.

Economically the development would impact on land values. There would be increased traffic on the narrow roads and parking problems. The quiet ‘hideaway’ would be gone, at least on weekends.

Environmentally the impacts would be quite extensive. Synthetic turf, concrete and light towers are not ecologically friendly and in fact would be detrimental to this remnant of urban

bushland. Such land surfaces increase run-off onto the margins (due to their impermeability), probably leading to problems of erosion in the future. But the effects on wildlife would be much worse. The surrounding bushland would be subjected to much greater pressures of general usage including noise, light, waste and water pollution.

The emergence of a community protest group had its own impact on this local tension. If nothing else, this association knew how to organise themselves and their many talents. While other resident groups have failed, this group had lobbying tactics to teach others. They organised advertisements, obtained hundreds of signatures on letters of complaint, made a great many phone calls, attended and addressed local council meetings, arranged articles and photos in the local press, gained the support of high profile politicians and carried out doorknocks. It all came together with a rally of about five hundred residents on the reserve, listening to speakers and voting unanimously to ask the council to reject the application.

The conflict was resolved when council, after much debate, rejected the application for devel­opment. The initiatives of the local residents proved to be effective. However, the issues arising from such a resolution are not purely local. Increasingly we find open spaces are under threat by wealthy interests. ‘Privatising’ of public facilities leaves nothing for future communities. As Ted Mack states:

While rising debt and selling the family silver are diseases of Federal and State Governments, Local Government has largely been immune. Not because of some greater inherent nobility . . . but because local residents can keep them honest.

Source: The North Shore Times, 23 September 1992