GREENS MOTION: Legislative Council votes on Le Cornu site motion
September 27th, 2017
Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. M.C. Parnell:
That this council—
1. Notes with concern the fact that the land formerly occupied by Le Cornu in O'Connell Street, North Adelaide, has been vacant for over 25 years, despite numerous development authorisations being granted; and
2. Calls on the state government to intervene to ensure that the land can be used for public purposes until a final development approval is secured and building work commences.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to place some remarks from the Liberal Party on the record in relation to this motion, which was moved by the Hon. Mr Parnell on 5 July. I have read his contribution; I think it made sense—well, let me start that again.
The Hon. M.C. Parnell: Excellent sense!
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I was agreeing with a lot of his comments up until the point at which the Hon. Mr Ridgway interjects, which is no reflection on the interjection, it is just that up until then the Hon. Mr Parnell had been talking about the ridiculous and embarrassing history of the Le Cornu site at O'Connell Street, North Adelaide, which we hope is not emblematic of South Australia's situation, but I think we all collectively feel a sense of embarrassment that you can go to the very vibrant O'Connell Street and there is a vacant site that has been in that state for some 25 years.
I would also like to commend, for her persistence on this matter, Councillor Anne Moran. When I was first elected as a member to this place in a casual vacancy to fulfil the term of the Hon. Diana Laidlaw, I did seek her counsel on this particular matter. She had explained to me that council had actually approved a number of developments at this site and then subsequently the owners of the site, for whatever reason, had decided not to proceed with it, and I think that has been part of the frustration. There has also been major development status for that site provided by the government to enable the developers to get started, and still that has not enabled the developer or the property owner of the time to get something happening at that site.
It is, I think, somewhat beyond comprehension. North Adelaide is a fantastic part of our city. It is a very vibrant area and certainly would fall into the category of location, location, location prime real estate. So, certainly the first point in Mr Parnell's motion the Liberal Party agrees to. The second part we do not. For that reason, we will be supporting the government's amendment to the motion, without which we would not be supporting this motion.
Just to skip over a bit of the background again, the site has been vacant since 1989 and was purchased by the Makris Group in 2001 for some estimated $7 million. The Adelaide City Council has also put in a bid for the land and has made several failed attempts to lease the site from the Makris Group in order to turn it into a community space, which I think is a pretty sensible suggestion. The Makris Group last failed to meet the Development Assessment Commission's extended deadline for construction to substantially commence by June 2017, so here we are again.
The Makris Group has withdrawn an application to extend its development approval for a previous proposal as it explores 'a more viable development solution for the site'. I understand that there is no further extension on the June 2017 deadline. Other Adelaide City Council public space proposals have involved pulling the fences down, planting grass, seating and some parking for local businesses. However, they have not advocated for the state government to enforce this option on the owner.
I understand that Mr Parnell has been delving through the statute records and has discovered some act that he believes could force public acquisition; however, we in the Liberal Party think that this is a fairly unusual and dangerous precedent, notwithstanding that I think the community would dearly love for that site to be able to be activated for community benefit, and therefore that would set the sort of precedent that is potentially pretty dangerous and is probably contrary to a lot of the principles that many people hold dear about what people can and cannot do with properties that they own.
For those reasons, as I stated at the outset, we will be supporting the government's amendment to the motion, and if that is not successful then we would not be supporting the motion, but if it is successful then we will.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): I rise to indicate that the government will be supporting the first part of the motion moved by the Hon. Mark Parnell but not the second, and to that effect I will be moving an amendment shortly, although I am very grateful indeed for the Hon. Mr Parnell's motion. I think he, in moving it, and the Hon. Michelle Lensink in expressing her views, probably express views that all of us hold: a sense of frustration at the lack of development at the site for a number of years, at ongoing promises by developers that have not come to fruition.
All of us, I think, would like to see that very prime site developed for the benefit of the community. It needs to be noted, of course, that the land on O'Connell Street, North Adelaide, which was formerly occupied by a Le Cornu business, is owned privately, and that is the impact and the effect of my amendment—to make that plain.
Development approvals have been granted, I am advised, for several different proposals for the Le Cornu site over a number of years. The most recent development approval for the site expired on 11 June 2017. Over recent years, South Australia has had a record private sector investment in the City of Adelaide and inner suburbs. Since 2012, I am advised that $1.8 billion in projects have been completed or are under construction in the City of Adelaide alone. The government is disappointed therefore that there has been this significant delay in action at the Le Cornu site. We understand that surrounding businesses and residents alike would like to see some certainty about development of the site, but to date all of us have been frustrated in that desire.
So, if and when a further application for development approval is received, of course it will be progressed in the usual manner by the City of Adelaide and the state government under the development assessment process. We believe that is the appropriate role for government in relation to this site. We do not agree with the Hon. Mr Parnell about an aggressive public acquisition program of that land, so to that effect I move the amendment standing in my name, which is:
Leave out paragraph (2) and insert the following—
(2) Notes that the land formerly occupied by Le Cornu in O'Connell Street, North Adelaide, is privately owned and is not under the control of the state government.
The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I speak briefly this evening just to signify the Dignity Party's support for the Hon. Mr Parnell's motion, and in so doing note that this block of land, the Le Cornu site on O'Connell Street, has sat vacant for most of my life.
The Hon. M.C. Parnell: Twenty-eight years.
The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Twenty-eight years is exactly my life.
The Hon. M.C. Parnell: We could name the park after you.
The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Well, your idea, not mine, but I am always happy to come along and cut a ribbon, Mr Parnell. Having recently taken on part-time foster care of a young child, who is 21 years my junior, I am acutely aware of just how long that is, and they are very keen to remind me of that at all times. I think that anything that can be done to rejuvenate that space and improve the amenity of our city and our state as a result is certainly welcome.
With regard to Mr Parnell's proposition for public acquisition, this is certainly not something that I would advocate lightly to be done in every case. However, given the length of time that the land has sat vacant and the number of failed development proposals, I think the government needs to step up and ensure that what could be a very useful piece of land is useful for the entire state.
I would add that, in a time when we have so many community organisations crying out for spaces, crying out for land to use to conduct their services—everything from theatre groups to youth groups to mental health services, and indeed when we are still pushing for a specific borderline personality disorder unit to be provided and built, if necessary, in South Australia—I think it is an affront to see what could be a really useful piece of land sitting vacant for the last 28 years.
Of course, I am not necessarily advocating that that land would be automatically appropriate for those uses, I am simply saying that, philosophically, at a time when so many community groups are hungry for space in our state to keep providing their important services, it is quite an affront. So, with those words, on behalf of the Dignity Party, I support the motion.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I rise to conclude the debate, and in the process I thank the Hon. Kelly Vincent for her support for the motion and also thank the Hon. Michelle Lensink and the honourable minister, Ian Hunter, for their contributions.
By way of summary, I remind members that anyone under the age of 28 years has lived on this earth a shorter time than this property has been vacant: 28 years. Both the minister and the Hon. Michelle Lensink, I think, used the words 'frustration' and 'disappointment', and no argument from me there. Everyone is frustrated and disappointed, but the question really is: for how long should we remain frustrated and disappointed?
At what point should the state step in and say, 'Look, you are not developing this land. It's prime real estate. Sure, it's privately owned, but maybe we will just lease it from you. We will take it off you and make you not liable for it if anyone trips over and has an accident. We will relieve you from council rates. We will relieve you from the obligation to pay land tax on it. We will pay you rent.' All of these things the city council has tried. The Hon. Michelle Lensink referred to the fact that the city council had asked the Makris Group if they could rent this land from them until they were ready to develop. The Makris Group has denied every overture that has been made.
So, the purpose of this motion is basically inviting the government, in a rare case—I will admit it is rare—to show some teeth. Do not just say, 'Oh, 28 years is a quite a long time. We are frustrated and disappointed that nothing has happened.' Show some teeth and say to the Makris corporation, 'Guys, talk turkey with the council. Allow them to use it as a park until you are ready to develop it, and if you don't do it voluntarily, we have got some legal tools we can use to make you.'
This is not some inner socialist coming out and saying, 'We are going to acquire the freehold title. We are going to nationalise North Adelaide.' There may be some members opposite who harbour those views; I do not. I am just saying that in the short term, acquire it for public purposes until Makris is ready to develop, or whoever they sell it to, and then take the park away, let the cranes come in and let's do what we all know is going to happen eventually. We need some sort of development there; no-one is saying we do not need it.
I am disappointed that neither of the old parties see fit to allow their frustration and disappointment to be alleviated with action; they are happy for it to remain. My question is: how long? Do we come back here at the half-century? Do I bring a cake, if I am still here? The Hon. Rob Lucas will still be here. At the 50th anniversary of the Le Cornu site being vacant, we will bring a cake into parliament and see if there is any appetite for action. I do not need to prolong the council. I will not be supporting the government's amendment which effectively guts the motion.
The guts of this motion is to basically call on the government to intervene. The government clearly does not want to intervene. The Liberal Party is saying that they do not think intervention is warranted. I am not going to support the amendment, but the public of South Australia can see where the numbers lie on this. I am not proposing to divide on it; I just find it incredibly—what are the words again?—frustrating and disappointing that the Liberal or Labor parties cannot see fit to end an impasse that has taken 28 years and left one of the most important sites in Adelaide vacant, unused, fenced off and ugly for that whole period of time.
Amendment carried; motion as amended carried.
For more information see the original motion and speech
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