4 February 2021

Government scraps plans for unwanted car park near Cooleman Court

| Ian Bushnell
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Coolo Park

”Coolo Park”: the open space in Weston where the temporary car park was proposed. Photo: File.

The Weston Creek Community Council has welcomed a government decision to scrap plans for a temporary car park on open space opposite Coleman Court in Weston that became a lightning rod for fears about the loss of green space in Canberra.

Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel said plans to build a new temporary car park on the corner of Brierly Street and Parkinson Street would not proceed, with the $616,000 funding to go instead to upgrading nearby Brierly Street.

Council chair Tom Anderson said the council had asked the Minister to reconsider going ahead with the project and it was pleased he had.

“Because we didn’t think it was now worth the money to build 65 car parks there, and the money could be put to much better use, if the money is going to Brierly Street that’s wonderful,” he said.

The decision to build the car park was in response to pressure on the Cooleman Court car park caused by spillover from the growing Molonglo Valley suburbs, which do not have significant shopping options yet.

But it sparked a backlash from residents and others in the community who saw it as unnecessary and were concerned at the loss of open space.

The proposal prompted a Legislative Assembly petition that drew more than 1000 supporters and an ongoing campaign to save the open space, dubbed Coolo Park. The block is zoned for community facilities and when the car park is no longer needed it will likely be released for that use, in line with the Weston Group Centre Master Plan.

But the patch of green and its trees have become a symbol of what the Save Coolo Park group sees as the ACT Government’s development creep and associated loss of green space.

The original proposal for 108 spaces was revised down to 65, saving 15 trees in the process, and a second access point from Watling Place was removed, leaving a single entry/exit point at the Brierly Street roundabout.

But the changes did not placate the community, which took the matter to the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The cause was also taken up by new Greens minister Emma Davidson, who wants the site rezoned to remain open space.

Mr Steel said that while the DA was approved for the revised plans, it was clear from the subsequent appeals to ACAT and other representations that the temporary car park did not have support.

“Planning for the temporary car park at Cooleman Court began in response to calls from Weston Creek residents and businesses for the ACT Government to provide additional parking to improve access to the shops and health services and to address the findings of the Weston Group Centre Master Plan,” said Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel.

Mr Steel said continuing concerns about a lack of parking and access at Cooleman Court would remain, reflecting the issues raised in the 2014 Master Plan for the Weston Group Centre about increasing demand from Molonglo residents.

“The issue of car parking is not going to go away at Cooleman Court. However, the ACT Government will still construct access improvements to the existing car park at Dillon Close as well as a pedestrian crossing on Parkinson Street and a speed hump on Liardet Street supporting the recommendations of the Master Plan,” he said.

“The remaining funding will instead be reallocated to the design of upgrades to Weston Creek’s main street (Brierly Street) to deliver on Labor’s election commitment, in consultation with the Weston Creek community.”

Liberal Member for Murrumbidgee Jeremy Hanson lamented the extent to which the community had to fight this proposal and believes Mr Steel should apologise.

“It is beyond disappointing that this proposal was taken to this late stage, in spite of the clear community opposition,” Mr Hanson said.

“Mr Steel should apologise to the community for the anxiety and stress he has caused them.”

Mr Anderson said the council believed 30 to 40 extra car parking spaces could be found around the centre to ease parking pressures, and the real answer was the development of Molonglo’s own shopping and service areas.

There were also concerns about the site’s future after the need for more parking eased, with Mr Steel suggesting it would then be used for community facilities in line with its zoning.

But the green space has grown on the community, many of whom now want it rezoned to stay that way.

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