The Camden decked carpark that will not die

Camden Advertiser 12 July 2006 p.1

Camden Advertiser 12 July 2006 p.1

Camden decked carpark proposal

Camden Council recently resolved to investigate and design a decked carpark in Oxley Street as part of the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy (2014).

This is not the first time that the council has considered a decked carpark. The first investigation of a decked carpark dates from 1996.  A later proposal in 2006 was eventually defeated. Over the decade a number of proposals were considered, meanwhile during this process the council developed over 360 additional car parking spaces in the town centre.

The following is an extract from an article that summarised the 2007 proposal:

Camden decked carpark proposal (2007)

The background to the 2006 carpark proposal can be found in the demographic shifts within the Local Government Area (LGA) caused by urbanisation. The importance of central Camden as the commercial hub of the LGA had gradually been eroded by population shifts to the north.

Camden traders faced increased competition from developments in the Narellan area, particularly the opening in 1995 of the Narellan Town Centre with 36 retail outlets and 1200 car parking spaces. Some Camden businesses felt that their viability was being threatened by these changes and approached Camden Council to provide a decked carpark in central Camden to attract shoppers.

In 1996 Camden’s deputy mayor, Eva Campbell, requested that council investigate a decked carpark at the site of an existing ground level parking area, between John and Murray Streets. This was one of three proposed sites in central Camden that were considered for a decked carpark over the next 10 years.

In the late 1990s at least one retail complex undertook a major re-development on the basis that the council would approve the construction of a decked carpark on the John/Murray Street site.

Apart from the John and Murray Streets site, the other two sites were also located at existing ground level carparks in central Camden, one in Larkin Place and the other between John and Hill Streets. The sites adjacent to John Street were on the elevated southern side of Argyle Street, while Larkin Place was located on the floodplain, on the northern side Argyle Street.

The major stakeholder was Camden Council. It was to be the owner, operator, financier, planner, and consent authority for the proposal. The council initially commissioned independent consultants to conduct a feasibility study (2002) and then approved the John/Murray Street site (2003), which was the site favoured by the Chamber of Commerce. The council needed loan funds beyond its budget and had to seek ministerial approval. The Department of Local Government demanded further community consultation in 2003 and a public exhibition period.

The results of the community survey indicated that local citizens felt the construction of a decked carpark was only a low to medium priority for council. Council elections were held in 2004, and the new council wanted further information and deliberation on the proposal. The sticking point was a comparison of the costings for Larkin Place and the John/Murray Street sites. The Larkin Place site yielded more carparking spaces at a lower cost per space, but the total cost for the John/Murray Street site was cheaper and it was still the favoured location of the Chamber of Commerce.

The council engaged a firm of architects to design the carpark in 2005 on the John/Murray Street site and held a stakeholders workshop shortly afterwards.

By mid-2005 public debate had intensified.and a number of parties expressed reservations about the proposal, supported by council’s heritage architects. In July council rejected the proposal. The Federal Member of Parliament entered the debate at this point and suggested an underground carpark.

Council wanted further consideration of the matter in late 2005 and approved the carpark in early 2006 on the John/Murray Street site.

The development of a decked carpark on the elevated southern sites compromised the vista of the St John’s Church from the Nepean River floodplain. The church was located on the hill behind the proposed John Street sites. This vista was part of the iconic imagery of Camden that has been an important part of the town’s cultural landscape and identity from colonial times.

The iconic nature of Camden’s sense of place was not contested by stakeholders. Although some stakeholders did feel that the final design of the decked carpark did compromise these values, including the council’s commissioned heritage architect. The architects felt that the proposal compromised the integrity of the ‘most intact country town on the Cumberland Plain’.

These opinions and others were carried by the Camden press including a diversity of letters from local residents. Public debate on the issue intensified in 2005 and the press reported the progress of the proposal with headlines, like: ‘Don’t dare do it?’, ‘Parking war not over yet’, ‘Fury over backflip’ and ‘Expensive “white elephant”’. The letter pages were scattered with colourful comment under headings like: ‘How to wreck the cultural landscape of Camden’, ‘Deceitful and devious on car park issue’ and ‘Car park cops a serve…or two’.

One issue that complicated the political process surrounding the progress of the proposal through council was the matter of councillor’s pecuniary interests. A number of councillors on the pre-2004 council and the 2006 council had business interests that were adjacent to one of the proposed sites. This raised the matter of a conflict of interest.

Councillors regularly excluded themselves from debate on the proposed carpark because of their declared interests, and one councillor felt she needed to justify her actions in the press. Despite this a complaint was made to the Department of Local Government about four counsellors and their perceived conflict of interest in mid-2006. All were cleared of any wrong doing, although one councillor appeared on the front page of the Camden Advertiser to explain his position.

The council made efforts to develop additional parking spaces and between 1999 and 2003 provided 367 extra parking spaces.

In addition 46 extra car parking spaces for shoppers were provided by ejecting council staff from a carpark adjacent to the council chambers. Where once council office staff had enjoyed free all day parking there was now a three hour time limit. One councillor suggested that it would not hurt council staff to walk an additional 100 metres to work.

More reading

Read the full article Ian Willis, Democracy in action in local government: Camden NSW (2007)

Read more here

Read about the Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy here on the Camden Council website

Further research

A summary of the 2014 Camden Town Centre Enhancement Strategy process over recent months is being compiled by the author of Camden History Notes.  The summary will be posted on this blog at the end of January 2015 for comment by interested parties. These will then be used to draft a submission for a conference presentation on the issues in early 2015. It is hoped to publish a journal article at a later date.

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One thought on “The Camden decked carpark that will not die

  1. Pingback: Do or Die! Heritage and urban planning in the burbs | Camden History Notes

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