The people's park is counting the cost of old age

Under pressure ... Centennial Park.
Under pressure ... Centennial Park.

WHEN Sir Henry Parkes opened Centennial Park in 1888, he said it was ''emphatically the people's park''. It's very likely he didn't envisage quite so many people.

On the eve of its 125th birthday, Centennial Parklands' 360 hectares now attract more than 11 million visitors a year, four times the population of Australia in 1888.

And initiatives announced last week to mark the park's birthday will bring more visitors. They'll also add to the park's financial burdens as it struggles to replace ageing assets, including 10,000 trees that will reach the end of their lives in the next five years.

The celebrations include building another children's playground and a Vivid-style Light Garden with family entertainment from January 18 to 27.

The festivities will be accompanied by the release of a land-use plan, which will involve extensive public consultation leading to a long-term masterplan, said the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust's chief executive, Kim Ellis.

About 95 per cent of the parkland's $20 million operating costs (for such things as toilets, garbage, etc) are covered by revenue generated by the state assets the park controls, such as Moore Park Golf. Only 4 per cent comes from the state government.

Although the park could always do with more funding, Mr Ellis said the drop in state funding had been matched by the transfer of revenue generating assets by successive state governments.

''The big gap we have is with a set of ageing assets and a growing community,'' he said referring to housing projects such as Green Square on the park's front door. ''There will be increasing pressure on the parklands. And there's a need for increasing funding to match that requirement.''

Mr Ellis said the park was struggling to fund large-scale projects that were often of direct benefit to neighbouring residents of the three parks, Centennial, Moore and Queens Parks. For example, the park spent $1.4 million upgrading Kensington Ponds, which is part of the system that turns dirty stormwater into clean water by the time it runs out the bottom. ''Yet the councils give us no money at all,'' he said.

He is asking the four adjacent councils - Sydney, Waverley, Woollahra and Randwick - to make a contribution based on the number of their ratepayers.

On Friday, the Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, accused the state government of ''passing the buck.'' She said the City of Sydney invested millions of dollars every year on community facilities (such as a library, a recreation centre and parks for Green Square) without any state government contribution.

''The state government recently found an extra $1 billion in their budget. I suggest they divert some of that towards the vital maintenance of Centennial Park."

In the meantime, there are new charges for groups of more than 100 people wishing to reserve a picnic spot. ''We're not charging for Aunty Mabel and 15 cousins,'' said the park's marketing manager, Craig Easdown. He stressed the charges were targeted at very large groups, who often left piles of garbage that attracting rats and ibis, blocked traffic and damaged the park.

This story The people's park is counting the cost of old age first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.