PAWL Cubbin may have won the war to bring grass back to Kingston’s Green Square, but it’s not a battle he and the Kingston Traders’ Committee hope to endure again anytime soon.
This week landscapers restored the grass to the square, removing the unpopular drought-resistant shrubs planted by Territory and Municipal Services in 2010 and ending an “exhausting” two-year long campaign by the committee.
Mr Cubbin says the battle has taken “years” off his life, but believes it has given Canberrans a voice and sparked fresh debate over community ownership of public spaces.
“I thought it would just be about the grass but it’s become so much more than that, it’s made the ACT Government really sit up and listen,” Pawl says.
“They’ve realised people want more ownership of their spaces and they want the Government to assist them more to do that. It’s not necessarily a money thing, it’s about the Government being more innovative about how they can work with the community to enhance these public areas and get a bit more community spirit.”
Mr Cubbin believes there are “deep cultural issues” within TAMS and described their part in the saga as a “bureaucratic nightmare”.
“They’re incredibly risk-averse, and I’ve told them ways they can address that, perhaps having case workers to help them get ideas out, to build a bridge between the community and the box tickers, and to be on the community’s side to get things happening. As opposed to some guy like me banging my head on the wall.”
TAMS initially undertook landscaping works to the value of $145,000 to replace Green Square’s then-irrigated grass with the drought-tolerant plants and shrubs, which were labelled “unsightly” and “unsafe” by the Traders’ Committee.
Last year the committee offered to pay for new raised grass beds and their maintenance, but TAMS lost the letter.
Three months later, Liberal MLA Steve Doszpot was preparing to table in the Legislative Assembly a petition signed by 900 people calling for the return of grass to the square.
Territory and Municipal Services then found the missing letter and advised the Government to reject the offer from the Kingston business-owners, but Chief Minister Katy Gallagher dismissed the directorate’s advice.
The situation became more complicated when TAMS told the Kingston business owners to expect a $70,000 bill, with another $27,000 for landscaping, upfront payments for watering the grass and money for mending a Government-owned sprinkler system.
Mr Cubbin says he was “ready to back out” at that point, however fresh media publicity saw the directorate drop its financial demand.
Mr Cubbin says he was “blown away” by the attention the debacle received.
“I thought it would just involve the businesses, but it’s become much more of a community issue. It was about the public making a statement – they’ve got a voice now and the Government has got to listen,” he says.
“Would I do it all again knowing how long it would take? Yeah, I would. It helped bring an issue to the forefront, and I think it’s going to make Canberra a better place.”