20 January 2023

Multi-million-dollar play space without toilets an embarrassment, says mother

| Ian Bushnell
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Alice Thomas, 6, on the slide at the Ruth Park Play Space in Coombs. Photo: Laura Maree Thomas.

The new $7 million Ruth Park Play Space in Coombs is a hit with the kids but one Canberra mother won’t likely return until there are toilets and a dedicated car park.

Laura Maree Thomas, from Isabella Plains, is not alone in her concerns about the playground, which has become destination over the holidays for families across Canberra.

Her social media post about the family’s excursion to Ruth Park on Wednesday sparked a flurry of responses about the lack of facilities.

“Finally made it to the fancy new multi-million-dollar playground in Coombs and there are no toilets and no trees for kids to go behind,” she wrote. “We market it as one of the best things to do with kids in Canberra … There are a bunch of tourists here who are shocked by the idea of doing a bush poo.”

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Ms Thomas told Region she was embarrassed for Canberra that she had to tell visitors to the national capital the multi-million-dollar playground had no toilets.

“We’d just done a walk around to see if we could find any and couldn’t so I told them they might have to go in the bush, which they were horrified by,” she said.

With four children aged seven and under, Ms Thomas is always on the lookout for great playground experiences and found Ruth Park listed online in Canberra’s top 10.

Of course she isn’t the only one, and when they arrived the playground was packed with children.

Coombs play space, Ruth Park

The play space on Holden Pond cost at least $7 million. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

With only street parking available, people had parked on both sides of Edgeworth Parade and she was forced to find a park at the end of the street – a fair walk from the playground.

She said it was pretty dangerous, with cars parked on both sides of the road and children running across the road.

“And people had warned us if you park over there, you’re going to get a fine so that was a bit nerve-wracking,” Ms Thomas said.

While she had taken her children to the toilet before leaving home, of course they needed to go again as soon as they arrived.

After a searching the site and meeting the tourists, she bundled them up and returned to the car so they could find some toilets in the nearby semi-vacant Coombs shops, which did not have any soap.

Ms Thomas said the children did enjoy the park when they returned but the lack of facilities soured the experience.

“The kids love the park to play in but as a facility it leaves a lot to be desired for families,” she said.

Evelyn Thomas, 7, enjoys the swing at the Ruth Park Play Space. Photo: Laura Maree Thomas.

“With the smaller playgrounds, as a parent, you don’t really expect it [to have toilets] but with the big multi-million-dollar ones, you do, when you plan on spending a couple of hours there,” she said.

Ms Thomas returned the next day for a pre-arranged outing with another family only to go through a similar experience.

So they probably won’t be back “because it’s just too hard getting them to get up to the toilet”.

The decision not to have toilets or a car park was a compromise that came out of consultation with nearby residents, who believed that the Holden Pond site was the wrong place to build a major playground but if it was to go there they did not want facilities that might attract bad behaviour or crime.

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Asked what she would say to City Services Minister Chris Steel, Ms Thomas said: “That the needs of the greater public who are using the park should probably outweigh the needs of the residents that voted against it.

“And that it’s an embarrassment for Canberra to have these shocked tourists trying to pee behind the bush somewhere.”

The Molonglo Valley Community Forum is monitoring the situation and late last year wrote to Mr Steel requesting a safety audit covering path and traffic safety, speed limits, parking and signage but had not heard back.

Another destination playground in nearby Denman Prospect, Ridgeline, also began life without toilets but some have since been installed after complaints from families, including Ms Thomas who wrote to her local member.

“And you know, they build this new one and have the same problems,” she said.

Comment was sought from Mr Steel’s office.

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There are no public toilets in Throsby at all! Developers making a mozza, ACT govt collecting rates, but no decent infrastructure for residents.

Just pee in the pond…😂

Yes, setting a great example for boys who become men. I’m tired of seeing adult men obviously pissing in public places, including the grounds of the church in Manuka. Pathetic! A few manners and a bit of consideration for others need to be taught from an early age. And what are the girls and women supposed to do?

This playground is already in need of repair!!
My wife and I took our grandchildren there and I noticed that one of the swings has been removed because the connection which holds the swing onto the support bar had worn through! I checked the remaining swings and they, too, had signs of wear including the special disability swing!
If this playground has cost $7m, it is a gross waste of public money!

Lovely park but needs some obvious upgrades.
Public toilets can be set up to open after 10 minutes and to hose themselves out on a regular basis.

HiddenDragon7:30 pm 22 Jan 23

“Ruth Park Play Space”(?) – might be better to re-name it the “Muddle-headed Wombat Play Space” until the practical issues are sorted out.

A government which is obsessed with urban densification and seems determined to keep land prices, and thus housing prices, as high as possible – with the result that many Canberra children will be growing up without suitable outdoor play options at home – should be doing much better in the provision and maintenance of good, convenient (in all senses of that word) public play spaces.

Call it for what it is. A monumental planning stuff-up. A testament to bad planning by the Land Development Agency and tinkering by the Suburban Land agency. LDA was axed in 2017 for good reason. Conflict over toilets and parking entirely predictable. Hugely attractive play equipment squashed into a totally unsuitable, small site. Go to the Coombs shops for clean, safe toilets on your way to the play space. Use your legs to get some exercise walking to the playspace.

Nearby residents objected to public toilets on the grounds of public safety. Their very real concerns were respected by the Suburban Land Agency. Visitors who come for a few hours do not see the criminal activity that residents live with 24/7. In addition to drug dealers arrested within Coombs, nearby residents know that within 100m of the play space there has been a stabbing; a drive by shooting into a parked car; a parked car torched; theft in broad day-light of cars, motorbikes, other property. Why would residents welcome a public toilet? The government’s own design standards confirm that toilets attract graffiti and vandalism and have sharps-disposal units for drug users. Local residents want better public safety before adding a crime magnet into this almighty planning stuff-up.

So only nice suburbs get toilets and parking?

The crime rate out there might have risen because they relocated some of the undesirable’s from the city area when they closed down some of the Public Housing. Moncrieff gets more than its fair share of mentions in the news for the same reason. I hardly see this as a reason not to provide public toilets. I’m sure the local gangsters as part of their devious criminal planning don’t select places with amenities. Likewise, I’m sure no self respecting drug dealers hang out on street corners and look for places with amenities. I’m sure they would be comfortable going behind a tree.

Capital Retro5:58 pm 25 Jan 23

It’s impacted negatively on home prices in Denman Prospect.

Capital Retro7:13 pm 21 Jan 23

None of the playgrounds that I used when I was a kid had toilets.

Time for Barr’s neo-marxist munchkins to toughen up.

We are now living down the South Coast (after 60yrs in Canberra) the South Coast would give an arm and leg for this kind of facility. Sure it is an issue about the toilet but it is on the verge of a first world or city problem. Go before you leave, if you are busting then go home. I grew up in QBN and there were toilets at SOME of the facilities but often locked. Think we are getting a bit precious – what is the Government response to this.

Many in Canberra would give an arm and a leg for close and easy access to a beach. Don’t the beaches have toilets? Toilets are essential for many people if they are to be able to go out at all.

Gov should stop listening to NIMBY homeowners

There was never any plan for a dedicated off-street car park. The draft plans had 4-6 additional on-street car parking spaces and all parking was nose-in to the kerb. Cars reversing in and out nose-in spots – on a curve and a slight rise – would have been unsafe. Edgeworth Parade is now unsafe with illegal parking (against solid white lines). Speed needs to be reduced from 50kph to 10kph. Dedicated pedestrian crossings are needed. If an off-street car park were to be built now (along with a public toilet) it would replace the landscaped kick-about area near Stan Davey Rise. So, do we rip out trees and grass to put in car parking? Do we remove the only attractive kick-about are in Coombs/ Wright? This park is a designated Central Neighbourhood Play Space for Cooms & Wright. It has never been designated as a district park for Molonglo NOR a destination play space for Canberra. The planners just super-sized it for no known reason creating fun for kids but inherent conflict for others – by breaching planning standards.

ChrisinTurner1:58 pm 21 Jan 23

“After two rounds of public consultation the SLA decided on a revised design without the sports areas, toilets and carpark.” RiotACT 25/10/22

Typical of the afterthought planning by the ACT “Planning” department. Developers first, then the afterthought- “wait, the pesky tenants are complaining of no parks or play facilities. Oh yeah let’s build a large playground to make up for our oversight. Oh no, now they are complaining of no toilets!
Too many basic errors of planning. Too much pandering to developers at the expense of the community. Time for the Chief Planner and Minister to go!

davidmaywald1:12 pm 21 Jan 23

It’s bizarre and counter-productive to build a wonderful playground, with no toilets and poor carparking options. We love the equipment and amenity, but the street was parked out on both sides. Very inconvenient to have no toilets for a destination playground.

BRIAN ASHCROFT11:30 am 21 Jan 23

Small suburban parks (pocket parks) don’t need toilets as the length of the average visit does not justify it. But these large regional adventure playgrounds involve people staying for much longer and should always have toilets.

I think the locals on the southern side of Edgeworth Parade objected to a toilet block and extra parking because it affected their ‘lifestyle’ and community amenity.

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