The fight to save a vital piece of parkland in Melbourne’s inner-west is entering a new phase. Four months after the formation of the Save Footscray Park campaign, it is clear that Maribyrnong Council is still not listening to the majority of local residents.
Most locals oppose the construction of a soccer academy and stadium on Footscray Park’s western lawn. The council is pushing for the area to be taken over by the Melbourne Victory Football Club as part of a rent-free 21-year peppercorn lease, but alternative sites can host the soccer academy.
Maribyrnong Council’s shady consultation process has shattered the trust of many people. Far from being democratic, it appears that the council has already considered this development a foregone conclusion. In fact, it signed a secret Memorandum of Understanding with Melbourne Victory over two years ago.
This secret memorandum is just one of many dodgy details that have come to light because of the sustained pressure from the community campaign.
At the conclusion of the initial submissions process, an overwhelming 59% of respondents with a local address opposed the proposal. Instead of accepting this result, the council is trying to engineer the answer they hoped for by carrying out a new bogus consultation in the form of a community “advisory panel”.
This sham panel is not a genuine body representing the views of the whole community. It is primarily made up of organisations hand-picked by the council, many with ties to Melbourne Victory. It is also telling that the panel’s terms of reference do not allow it to consider any other uses for the western lawn area.
The procedure is so rotten that even one of the seven councillors, independent Mia McGregor, was compelled to publicly denounce it at a council meeting full of angry residents.
There is no doubt that Maribyrnong Council and Melbourne Victory intend to ram this project through regardless of the community’s wishes. If they have their way, construction works will begin well before the next council election in November 2020.
With all this in mind, we must prepare now for the likelihood that the council will try to proceed with their plans against the genuine wishes of the community.
If the council try to begin construction, the only way to prevent the loss of the western lawn will be mass community direct action aimed at stopping the works. By peacefully blockading the site, we can make it impossible for the project to be built.
It is not too late to push for an alternative site that does not take away existing green space. Maribyrnong Council has admitted that they have not even considered any other options for the academy site.
One viable location could be part of the old Maribyrnong Defence Site, a 127-hectare tract of Commonwealth-owned land near Highpoint Shopping Centre that has just been put on the market.
Rather than selling this land off to private developers it should have been used to build much-needed public housing to ease the affordable housing crisis. Nevertheless, there is a genuine need for more parks, sporting and recreation facilities in the area.
At least some of this land should be set aside for this purpose and be administered by the council. Melbourne Victory could then consult about leasing a portion of it to establish its academy there.
We will need to build massive political pressure to get any alternative proposals heard. The most effective way to do this is to make it clear that our campaign will not accept the outcome of a sham consultation process, and we will not let our park be taken away under any circumstances.
To this end, Socialist Action members have initiated a “pledge” to win people to the idea that we need to prepare now for direct action to save the park.
But this campaign is about much more than just a park. It goes to the heart of who gets to decide what our communities look like. Like many working-class suburbs across Australia, Footscray’s space is being carved up while neglected public services are not keeping up with population growth.
This is the chaos of the capitalist market. More than ever we need democratic socialist planning to meet the needs of all.
To sign the pledge and get involved in the campaign text ‘pledge’ to 0406 340 132.
By Jeremy Trott