WANGI Wangi residents say poor communication by Lake Macquarie City Council was the catalyst for an incident that saw police called to quell a confrontation on the waterfront on Saturday.
The trouble started when workmen began digging up the grass on the public reserve behind houses on Puna Road to facilitate construction of an exercise station.
Among the concerned Puna Road residents who approached the workmen were Ross and Lyndsay Dickson.
“It was all very nasty and unpleasant,” Mr Dickson said.
Resident Paul Hamilton said the workmen were asked to stop until it could be determined that they had been authorised by council to do the work at the location.
“We asked them to hang on until we have a chance to talk to the person responsible for the placement [of the exercise station],” Mr Hamilton said.
The workmen called police and four officers responded.
Mr Dickson said part of the problem was that residents had received no notification that the work was set to start at the location.
Furthermore, Mr Dickson said council did not respond to a letter he sent last May seeking information about the specific location of the exercise station.
Council conceded that it had not responded to Mr Dickson’s letter.
“In an unfortunate oversight, a direct response was not provided, however all feedback, including Mr Dickson’s, was reviewed and considered as part of finalising the plan for the project,” a spokesperson for the council told the Lakes Mail.
During the community consultation period there had been “overwhelming support for the provision of outdoor exercise equipment”, they said.
The workmen have been contracted by Wangi Lions Club and authorised by Lake Macquarie City Council to install four exercise stations beside the shared pathway to form the Wangi Fitness Trail.
The exercise stations are being installed on the public reserve between Wangi Workers Club and Wangi RSL Club.
The Puna Road residents said they supported the idea of the Wangi Fitness Trail, but said the location of Station 3 had been ill conceived.
The residents believe Station 3 should be installed 100 metres along the reserve near the sewer pump at the end of Pippita Road.
“We don’t object to these exercise stations, but this one should be closer to the sewer pump. That area is well lit, and it would mean Station 3 is more evenly spaced along the path,” Mr Hamilton said.
Council said the location of each exercise station had been carefully considered
“These locations were assessed against a number of factors such as the topography, distance between stations, type of equipment, likely exercise patterns of users, vegetation impact, width of the reserve, tidal impacts, and existing infrastructure and services,” the council spokesperson said.
“The location of Station 3 has favourable conditions across all these factors. Lighting of these facilities did not occur as night-time use is not intended.”
The council said its consultation with the community about the fitness trail had been extensive.
“Council undertook consultation with local residents through a letterbox drop and through council’s website to the wider Lake Macquarie community in May 2017,” they said.
“The project was also promoted through council’s social media channels and in the local media.”
The residents said they acknowledged the council’s right to manage the reserve.
“It is public land, and they have to right to control it,” Mr Hamilton said.
And Mr Dickson said residents soon realised on Saturday that the workmen were entitled to be there.
“We saw they had a valid construction permit, and it was apparent that if we continued we would be arrested,” Mr Dickson said. “We realised the futility of the situation [and left]. We couldn’t stand to watch it any longer.”
Mr Dickson said he was among a group of residents who had painstakingly mowed and maintained the site for the community’s benefit for 9½ years.
The residents said the “passive space” would be missed.
Wangi Lions Club initiated the community project two years ago with the help of government grants.
President Rhonda Finlay said the Lions club “at all times followed the directions and requirements of the Lake Macquarie City Council”.