Brunswick: Montfort Park alienation from the public realm

Fencing out the public Montfort Park, Brunswick

Fencing out the public
Montfort Park, Brunswick

The issue of open space and Montfort Park in Brunswick has been raised by the initiation of a community petition and Facebook Group. Although I live in Fawkner, I care about open space and environmental issues across the municipality. This is also a park that I used to use so there is a personal connection.

Montfort Park is at the corner of Henkel St and Wendel St in Brunswick. The park, and the old scout hall next to it, were sold to a community group by Council in 2003, but with conditions on the use of the open space land, that it’s title of Montfort Park continue and that the park and it’s facilities be developed as a basketball court or similar and remain accessible to the public.

It is now all concrete, a basketball court and open space, and surrounded by a 3 metre steel fence. Local residents argue it is seldom used and remains inaccessible for public use.

Panorama of Montfort Park and Al Awda Community Centre in the old Scout Hall

Panorama of Montfort Park and Al Awda Community Centre in the old Scout Hall

The circumstances of the parks sale and alienation from the public realm raises conflict of interest questions as NE ward candidate Tony Helou was both an office holder in the community group which purchased the property, at a much reduced valuation, and a Councillor of the City of Moreland at the time. I have no details whether Mr Helou declared this conflict of interest at the time, and thus whether he excluded himself from all parts of the decision making process for the sale.

Tony Helou was previously a Councillor for North East ward, but lost in 2012. He is now standing for election again.

So the issue has direct relevance for both South Ward where the park is located, and North East ward where Tony Helou is standing for election.

Six candidates from South Ward have commented specifically on this park and the need for open space in Brunswick at the Free Montford Park Facebook page.

Ray Pastoors (Labor aligned) said “As a supporter of green and open park spaces, it is sad to see this space being neglected. Along with Cr Lambros Tapinos I’d support returning this space to the local community. If elected I’d raise this issue with council and seek to find a solution.”

Mel Yuan (Independent) said “I’m standing because of my frustration about council and open space – let’s work together to lobby across the municipality”

Lambros Tapinos (Labor aligned) who is recontesting said “Growing up in Cliff Street Brunswick, I remember Montfort Park. I support the facility being opened to the community. The fence should be removed so children can play on the basketball courts and the hall should be available for booking by community groups on the council website. As a former Mayor, I researched and investigated the circumstances around the sale of the land. However I did not get support from otherCan’t find public access sign councillors on this matter. We need to look at it again.”

Chris Hansen (Labor aligned) said, “Open space is at a critical low around Brunswick, and transparency in local government is essential. If elected this Saturday, I look forward to working with the community to secure accessible open space, right across the South Ward.”

Jess Dorney (Greens) said “I agree that there needs to be an investigation about what occurred regarding the sale of this land. Also believe this land should be in public hands/ownership.”

Mark Riley (Greens) issued a longer statement:
“I stood with locals and fellow Greens in the area to keep Montfort Park in public ownership, when this arrangement came into effect back in 2003. I support your calls to open this space up for public access and for the hall to come back into Council ownership and management. I’d like to see an upgrade of the gardens where practicable too. There is way too much by way of hard surfaces which contribute to the urban heat island effect. As a Greens candidate I support calls for an investigation into the virtual giving away of this prime public space back in 2003. I would also support a return to Council ownership and management, without it being subject to market prices, as you advocate. …. I hope we can ‘free Montfort Park’ in the very near future.”

Two Candidates in North East ward also commented: Sue Bolton (Socialist Alliance) and Imogen Jubb (Independent).

Sue Bolton said: “Thanks to the Free Montfort Park group for sending me information about Montfort Park. I don’t remember any discussion about Montfort Park during the current council term so it is useful to know the history of this space. I would be interested in pursuing this issue if I am re-elected to council I have been very consistent in opposing the sell off of council land and support for open space since being elected in 2012.”be

Imogen Jubb said: “I understand that the sale of this property involved a condition that the space be open to the public. The fence above demonstrates this is not currently the case. I would be willing to work with the community to address the issue and work towards the best use of the site. It could make an excellent pop up space for local markets, community or sports events.”

In 2001 Council document DCD75 SALE OF LAND – 98 HENKEL STREET, BRUNSWICK said:

“there is a significant level of support by the local community for the site to be retained for recreational/open space purposes. Officers have engaged in discussions with the Community Centre seeking to agree to an outcome that would add value to this unused piece of land. The Centre has expressed interest in purchasing the 98 Henkel Street site for the purposes of providing an outdoor recreation space for use by the community.”

“The offer for purchase of the site is $100,000 to be paid to Council within 3 years, which amounts to a significant discount on the market value of the properties. The Centre’s proposal includes a significant investment by them in the development of outdoor recreation facilities for use by the community.”

The report by Council officers concluded: “In light of the community support for the site to be retained for recreational/ open space purposes and the expressed interest of the Al Awda Community Centre’s in purchasing both the 98 Henkel Street and 1 Wendel Street sites, it is recommended that Council give notice of its intention to sell both 98 Henkel Street and 1 Wendel Street Brunswick by private treaty on the basis that the site will be used for community use.”

In March 2002 a report to Council put forward: “If the sale of the site is to proceed, Council will need to ensure that the site continues to be used for community and recreation purposes, and that if the Al Awda Community Centre ever cease use of the site it will be returned to Council.”

Montfort Park conditions of sale explicitly included public access to be made available, but also the options to repurchase the deed at 19 percent of the rateable value if ever the Community Centre ceases use of the site, and to prevent transfer of land to a third party.

In December 2003 Council discussed the sale of the two properties to the Dar Alawda centre. (CSD117 PROPOSED LEASE OF LAND AT 1 WENDEL STREET AND 98 HENKEL STREET BRUNSWICK (P12594)): “The present full market value of this land is $530,000. The value of the site encumbered by the special conditions is $140,000. Council resolved to sell the site for $100,000 for the purpose of securing community and recreation development of the site by the Dar Alawda Community Centre.”

The sale contract included provisions saying that the purchaser, “must not impede or prevent access to the Open Space Land by a Moreland resident except to the extent described by the Public Access Rules, a legible copy of which must be exhibited in a position which is clearly visible by any person from the outside of the Open Space Land.

I didn’t see any visible access rules when I checked today, but I wasn’t searching for them either. On close inspection in googlemaps, there is a sign on the brick wall near the fence, but in my photo today this sign is now obscured by a tree.

In reading the Access rules in the 2003 contract it stipulates that residents need to become associate members (for a reasonable fee), with access available through bookings for use of the basketball court and open space, between 10am and 5pm Tuesday to Sunday (7pm during daylight saving).

With these rules in place, no wonder local residents haven’t used the site. No impromptu twilight basketball games for local kids (or adults) under these rules.

In early October 2016 organisers of Free Montfort Park met with Moreland Council CEO Nerina Di Lorenzo. She is committed to working with the group to ensure community have access to this park.

The new Councillors will need to ensure resident access is made available, and investigate the sale and whether the site and community hall could be brought back under Council ownership.

Disclosure: I used to spend time at a house in Talbot street that backed onto Henkel street in 1991. I visited this park on many occasions with two young kids, as it was the closest open space. It had a couple of forlorn trees growing which the kids used to climb. It is true the park was also used as a dumping ground for rubbish and mattreses which probably also reflected on it being a neglected piece of open space parkland by Council at the time.

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