Upgrades to Mallabula’s Caswell Reserve park has divided residents of the tiny Port community

DIVIDED: Deborah Ramage, Ralph de Ville and Garry Wanless with his grandson Blade, 5, and dog Bella at the new Caswell Reserve playground.
DIVIDED: Deborah Ramage, Ralph de Ville and Garry Wanless with his grandson Blade, 5, and dog Bella at the new Caswell Reserve playground.

The relocation of a brand new state-of-the-art playground and amenities block at Mallabula’s Caswell Reserve has divided residents of the tiny Port community.

While some residents have applauded Port Stephens Council for the upgraded facilities, others have raised concerns about child safety, lack of consultation with neighbouring residents and the downsizing of toilet amenities.

Given the reserve remains popular with disability groups, residents were also hoping for an all-inclusive playground.

Also included in the major $220,000 makeover – $90,000 for the playground and $130,000 for the amenities block – are pathways and car parking.

Prior to the installation, the council said the much-needed upgrades would be relocated “to make the park safer and easier to access for everyone”.

Port Stephens Council has started work on the $300,000 upgrade of Caswell Reserve in Mallabula.

Port Stephens Council has started work on the $300,000 upgrade of Caswell Reserve in Mallabula.

Not so says resident Deborah Ramage, who resides in close proximity to the newly sited playground.

“I am not critical of the new facilities, I think the playground looks great, but I am concerned that children will now be playing less than 10m from a nearby creek which floods during heavy rain,” she said.

“It is the responsibility of the council to mitigate safety risks, not increase them.

“Decisions taken on the expectation that residents provide ‘passive surveillance’ without consultation is arrogant in the extreme. 

“Residents cannot be held responsible for the safety of children in the park at any time.”

The council’s community and recreation coordinator, Brock Lamont, said that the council had received positive feedback on the project from a number of residents, citing increased use of Caswell Reserve over the holiday period as testament to community and visitor support for the upgraded design.  

“The site was chosen in consultation with the council's flooding and drainage engineers and is considered appropriate for a playground,” he said.

“The council engaged with the community over some time to discuss proposed upgrades to Caswell Reserve.

“This included a newsletter distributed directly to local residents, a media release on the council’s website and a number of news stories in local media outlets.”

Mr Lamont said that the playground design was in keeping with the NSW Government’s ‘Everyone Can Play’ guidelines which focuses on inclusive infrastructure within the one play area.

Port Stephens Council's plan for Caswell Reserve.

Port Stephens Council's plan for Caswell Reserve.

“This includes connecting pathways and a concrete surround to provide easy access for people with limited mobility or those using wheelchairs,” he said. “The basket swing that has been included is also accessible directly from the pathway with an additional soft fall pad placed beneath.”

Residents claimed the relocation of the amenities block, including plumbing, was excessively costly and would have a negative impact on Bay Street residents.

They were also concerned about losing two toilets and internal showers.

Mallabula Parks and Reserves Committee secretary Ralph de Ville said that committee had funded – to the tune of $4500 – the construction of a footpath from the carpark to the toilet block.

“Now the council decides to remove the building and spend even more money redirecting the plumbing. Why couldn’t they just upgrade the existing facilities?” he said.

Mr Lamont said that the pre-existing toilet block was due for renewal based on its age and condition.

“In the original design, the toilet facilities were separated from the playground and barbecue equipment by an access road which is considered unsafe by current standards,” he said.

“The decision to consolidate all recreation facilities on the same side of the road improves the overall safety for everyone using Caswell Reserve. The new block will provide two unisex toilets, one unisex/accessible toilet and two external showers.”

Deborah Ramage, Ralph de Ville and Garry Wanless with his grandson Blade, 5, and dog Bella at the new Caswell Reserve playground.

Deborah Ramage, Ralph de Ville and Garry Wanless with his grandson Blade, 5, and dog Bella at the new Caswell Reserve playground.

Ms Ramage has also sought from the council sound proofing to her home.

“Building a large playground close to my home office impedes my ability to work without noise pollution from squealing children,” he said.

As part of the improvements to Caswell Reserve, the council has also sealed the existing road gravel to make the park and boat ramp easier to access.

“The new public amenities are scheduled to be installed in February and will be co-located near the barbecue shelters and playground,” Mr Lamont said.

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