In April 2020 I was shocked to hear that the Education Department and the Queensland Academy for Science Mathematics and Technology (QASMT) had closed access to the Vera Street Community Garden, the adjacent Vera Street Common, and the thoroughfare from Vera Street through to Miskin Street, with plans for a tall fence around the school.
There were some temporary restrictions on access while QASMT finishes a construction project, and some changes required by COVID-19 rules and social distancing, but the community wanted to make sure any restrictions on access are not permanent.
I wrote to the Education Minister on 29 April 2020 and again on 7 May 2020 advocating long-term community access. You can read my letter here. I also wrote to Councillor James Mackay and the Lord Mayor to make sure Brisbane City Council protects the Council-designated Secondary Cycle Route which runs from Vera and Soudan St along Toowong Creek to Miskin St.
I also launched this petition to restore access and, after a responsive community campaign, when I met with the Minister for Education in May, she gave me a commitment in writing that:
- No fencing around the oval will be built before a full community consultation process is undertaken about access to green space at QASMT.
- There will be full community access to the school-owned green space until consultation is finished, including the oval and Toowong Creek.
- Consultation will happen after construction work is finished.
Following these commitments, once construction of the QAMST expansion concluded, I opened a community survey to seek residents' views on the use of this green space, as well as solutions for better traffic flows and public and active transport around the school, which I will use to inform a submission to Translink for their review of transport to QASMT.
History and use of the space
Generations of families and local kids have treasured these quiet green spaces, especially along Toowong Creek.
Local people have been allowed to access this site since the 1800s when it was the residence of Sir Arthur Palmer, the 7th Premier of Queensland. The site was bequeathed to the Queensland government on the understanding that public access be maintained. For years local residents have used the ovals and green space and have walked and cycled along the pathway along Toowong Creek.
Today, that pathway is designated as a “Secondary Cycle Route” on the Brisbane City Council’s Bicycle Network Overlay Map. That status shows just how deeply integrated this space is in our community.
The Queensland Academy for Science Mathematics and Technology is an important part of the Toowong and Taringa community. Residents are seeking to maintain a respectful and constructive relationship with the school, staff and students, some of whom are also locals.
My office and I have been deeply engaged with the construction at QASMT for years now. On 9 November 2018 I made a detailed submission on the original development plans under the Ministerial Infrastructure Designation. The approved development plans explicitly stated that the Minister understood that public access to the site would be maintained. I wrote to the Principal back in November 2018 on the question of public access to and through the site.