An attempted land flog-off that failed

In a major win for the community, a significant stand of mature paperbark and she-oak trees at Austin Butler Reserve, Woy Woy will be retained for the community, after Council resolved at its meeting on 28 November that no further action should be taken to progress the sale of this land – the land was taken off the chopping block… after community groups put a long fight to save it.

A jubilant Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch acknowledges the community's victory in saving the Austin Butler Reserve from being sold to Peninsula Plaza by Central Coast Council - power to the people.

6 December 2023

ALAN HAYES

 

AUSTIN BUTLER RESERVE should never have been part of the asset selloff program. It was community land, with mature native trees and flood prone. Both current Council Administrator Rik Hart and the interim administrator Dick Persson promised they would not sell community land so they immediately broke that promise.

 

But people power won – victory was theirs, just like in so many instances when the community band together and stand firm in what they know is right. It’s a tribute to the John Lennon song, which has become an anthem of community struggle – “Power to the People”. The same anthem that united the Central Coast community in its fight to protect the Central Coast’s drinking water catchment from the negative impact of long wall coal mining beneath it – “Power to the People” is what the Austin Butler Reserve campaign was all about.

 

In a major win for the community, a significant stand of mature paperbark and she-oak trees at Austin Butler Reserve, Woy Woy will be retained for the community, after Council resolved that no further action should be taken to progress the sale of this land.

 

Member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch described the news as a win for Peninsula residents, visitors, and the Central Coast community at large.

 

“Together, we have shown that our communities voice counts.

 

“The community’s voice on this issue is clear and strong. In the recent online Austin Butler Access community poll, Central Coast residents expressed their overwhelming preference to retain the site in Council, community ownership.

 

“In fact, a huge 92% who voted through Council’s online consultation were overwhelmingly in favour of retaining the site in Council ownership. Council reported a total of 1,581 responses were received during the polling period (16 October to 13 November 2023).”

 

In the online poll, community members were asked whether they supported Austin Butler Reserve remaining under community ownership through Council, or whether they preferred a sale to the shopping centre and as such, the destruction of this natural site, with funds going towards the long-term greening of the local area.

 

Of the targeted community survey conducted by phone, 49% of people voted against the sale, while 46% of people voted for the sale.

 

Central Coast resident Joy Cooper said “I believe council staff and both administrators did not do their due diligence when they initially selected Austin Butler as an easy asset to get rid of. A GIPA revealed long-running correspondence that clearly showed council had already determined this land was not suitable for reclassification and sale, around 10 years ago because it is flood prone.

 

“The support for keeping the trees in Austin Butler has been long-running and strong. Mr Hart said one "protest group" ran the campaign and implied it was a minority of people who supported keeping this reserve. That was completely untrue. There were more than 13 different community organisations involved in this campaign from all walks of life.

 

“It was pretty disingenuous for Mr Hart not to acknowledge the level of support and the broad community's determination to keep the reserve for recreational use.

 

“Council Administrator Rik Hart tried every trick in the book to look after the interests of one commercial enterprise ahead of the interests of the community.”

 

Peninsular Plaza, who were seeking to buy the Austin Butler Reserve land, contended that there were safety issues in the reserves car park that would impact on the delivery of goods to retail outlets in the centre. Yet neither Peninsula Plaza nor Central Coast Council supplied evidence that these safety issues existed. What was evident, however, that the proposed selloff of the community land was solely for the benefit of the Shopping centre’s owners, who saw an opportunity to buy public land for less than its commercial value.

 

Had the Austin Butler land been sold, it may have well allowed future redevelopment of the shopping centre at the community’s expense. There are a number of other innovative options Peninsula Plaza could have put forward to redevelop that site without sacrificing an area of mature native shade trees.

 

Liesl Tesch said that the future of the site will now be completely guided by the community’s response to the formal consultation process.

 

“The community has said loud and clear that they oppose the destruction of this beautiful stand of mature trees,” Ms Tesch said.

 

“I stand by what I voiced earlier this year, which is that I believe that investment in greening of our community should not be dependent on the destruction of dozens of mature trees, which are home to native birds and animals.

 

“Greening of our community should not be contingent on the destruction of our mature natural landscape. The choice is clear and the community has spoken loudly.”

 

Earlier this year, the community came together to oppose previous plans to reclassify the Reserve from ‘community’ to ‘operational’ land, in order to facilitate the sale of the Reserve to Peninsula Plaza, which would result in the destruction of dozens of mature trees.

 

Liesl Tesch said that “the greening of the Peninsular should not be dependent upon the destruction of mature trees.”

 

The strong alliance of community groups who came together to protect Austin Butler will continue to work together to make sure the council properly maintains this valued public asset and keeps its commitment to greening the Peninsula - Peninsula Residents Association; Peninsula Environment Group; Grow Urban Shade Trees (GUST); Mingaletta Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation; WIRES; Australian Conservation Foundation Central Coast Group; Community Environment Network (CEN); Koolewong Point Clare Tascott Progress Association; Save Central Coast Reserves; Save Our Woy Woy; Wildlife Arc; Residents for Responsible Ettalong Development (RRED); and Pearl Beach Progress Association.

 

Liesl Tesch said “Together, we have shown that our communities voice counts.”

 

No doubt John Lennon is smiling down upon the Central Coast – “Power to the People”!

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