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Australia Backlash grows against Brisbane City Council proposal to demolish East Brisbane Bowls Club

05:42  23 july  2021
05:42  23 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a group of people that are standing in the grass: The bowls club building has been the home of Backbone Youth Arts since 2016. (Supplied: Marek Rygielski) © Provided by ABC News The bowls club building has been the home of Backbone Youth Arts since 2016. (Supplied: Marek Rygielski)

Brisbane City Council's proposal to demolish the East Brisbane Bowls Club, home of Backbone Youth Arts, was based on 501 responses to a website survey and 60 people attending information kiosks.

The survey was open between December and February as the first round of consultation on a draft vision for the 3.2-hectare heritage-listed Mowbray Park, on Lytton Road in East Brisbane.

It had seven questions, including two open for comments, asking how residents used the park and what they wanted to see changed.

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The council's draft vision, released last month, said the survey results showed "many residents suggested the building detracted from the visual amenity of the site".

None of the survey questions made specific reference to the East Brisbane Bowls Club building, and the council would not release data on how many respondents specified the building in their comments, citing privacy legislation.

'Under-utilised' community facility

The council's acting parks, environment and sustainability committee chair Tracy Davis said survey responses indicated residents believed the bowls club site was "an under-utilised space".

"The majority of people during our initial consultation indicated they wanted to be able to use Mowbray Park more for picnics, barbecues and recreation and that's precisely what has been proposed under our plan," Cr Davis said.

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"The former East Brisbane Bowls Club has not been used for bowls for more than a decade.

"The current lessee, Backbone, has indicated concerns about the condition of the site."

Brisbane City Council did not answer questions about the condition of the building, and why demolition was proposed in the draft plan rather than refurbishment.

ABC Radio Brisbane asked how concerns that a community facility was "under-utilised" could justify demolishing the facility rather than reassessing its use.

The council responded that "many residents" wanted more parkland, according to the first round of engagement.

'Truly radical arts' in East Brisbane

Backbone, a leading youth arts organisation, has used the bowls club building since 2016 and leased it from the council since 2018, holding numerous performing arts workshops, live music, theatre and other events for young and diverse people.

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A community rally against the proposed demolition was held on Saturday, with Labor and Greens politicians speaking against the concept.

In a statement on July 15, Backbone said it had "worked with 5,911 artists, welcomed 41,847 audience members and participants to our programs, and held more than 1,596 events and 14 festivals" at East Brisbane Bowls Club since 2016.

"By remaining at the old East Brisbane Bowls Club, Backbone can build upon our achievements," Backbone's statement said.

"With this venue, we can truly create radically inclusive arts and cultural experiences for our East Brisbane community and beyond."

Backbone's lease ends in November, and the council has proposed relocating the organisation to Seven Hills Hub, a council-owned creative facility four kilometres east.

A council spokeswoman said Backbone "has raised a range of concerns relating to the age of the venue, which was built in the 70s, and that its design as a bowls club was not fit-for-purpose" and that upkeep costs were Backbone's responsibility.

Backbone's 2018 annual report notes that the organisation was awarded funding from Brisbane City Council's Access and Inclusion Fund, the federal Community Gambling Fund, and Arts Queensland's Infrastructure Fund to upgrade the building's disability access and bathroom facilities.

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Backbone's July 15 statement, posted on social media, said: "There are no venues available which parallel what we have at the Bowlo."

"The old East Brisbane Bowls Club is where we can have the greatest impact, this is the venue where we can achieve our greatest potential," the statement continued.

"… With that in mind, Backbone is a small organisation that hopes to maintain our long and fruitful relationship with council, while working to generate fantastic outcomes for our population, no matter where we are."

Second consultation round underway

Opposition deputy leader Kara Cook said there was "no evidence-based decision-making" around the proposal and more than 1,700 residents had signed a petition opposing the demolition.

Greens councillor Jonathan Sri, whose ward encompassed Mowbray Park until 2020, said Backbone had brought the "previously neglected site" back to life.

"The LNP's suggestion that residents should have to choose between parks and libraries/community centres is pretty reprehensible – we need more of both," Cr Sri said.

The council spokeswoman said the second round of consultation on the Mowbray Park proposal was underway, "which will help inform the next steps of the draft plan".

Submission can be made until August 1 on the council's website.

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