Protests against a planned holiday caravan park at Maitland's Walka Water Works have stepped up with more than 200 residents gathering at the site on Sunday, May 28 in opposition to the $15.1 million project.
The Save Walka Community Alliance, which spearheaded the rally, had hoped Maitland mayor Philip Penfold would attend, but the mayor didn't go.
The alliance claims there is no value for Maitland residents in the plans, and that the community hadn't been rigorously consulted.
Save Walka campaigner Rachael King said the main issues spoken about at the rally were the impact of caravans on what has been popular wedding spot, plans to cover up the historic filtration beds and the impact of the caravans on the site's green space.
Ms King said siting a caravan park at the historic precinct was at odds with council's stated aim of making the building a wedding venue.
"One of our concerns is that this will be impacted as a result of having a caravan park because we're not sure how many brides will be lining up to have their weddings with caravans in the background or being linked to a caravan park," she said.
"Also the fact that council is planning to have outdoor events. The filtration beds which are directly in between the pumphouse building and where the proposed caravan park will be, council is planning to cover the filtration beds.
"Now those filtration beds are really significant to the history of Walka Water Works and we think it's criminal for them to cover them over."
Ms King said from the rally location by the walking track it was clear the whole site would be impacted by the holiday park.
"We're told by council that the accommodation site will only be four per cent (of the site), but that four per cent will be visible from many other areas so it will actually impact people's everyday walks," she said.
In October 2022 Maitland City Council, the NSW Government and Reflections Holiday Parks announced plans for improvements to the site, including overnight visitor accommodation and restoring the 1885 pumphouse building.
Council has since secured $15.1 million in funding for stage one of the project, and detailed planning is yet to begin.
It recently held a Facebook Live Q&A which attracted more than 1400 views and addressed 84 questions from the community.
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Maitland City Council general manager David Evans said council had heard the Save Walka Community Alliance's views extensively over recent weeks and months, but at each turn the group refused to engage with council's offers for meetings and discussion.
"We understand and recognise there are diverse interests and views about Walka, and this is why we have opened up a number of opportunities for the community to participate in the process at a very early stage, noting that detailed planning for the site is yet to commence," he said.
"Broad community consultation will occur throughout the planning and delivery of the project and all viewpoints will be heard through this process.
"The vision for Walka Water Works is based on community engagement that was conducted in 2020, during the development of the Maitland Destination Management Plan 2020-2030.
"The proposed works will contribute to a sustainable future for the former industrial site, preserving its history and creating a space that can be enjoyed by the community and visitors for generations to come."
Ms King said the alliance believes the best way to meet with council is by a public meeting.
"It's disappointing that the mayor didn't show up," she said.
"The mayor knows how important this is to the community and he's said that he would like to meet with us, we would like to meet with him very much so and we'd like to do it in a public setting.
"We will be arranging a public meeting where we'll be inviting along the mayor, the general manager, the senior executive team, the councillors and Reflections [Holiday Parks]."
Ms King said the plan for the Walka Water Works "doesn't stack up".
"It's as though nobody's really put a great deal of thought into it, and it's really disappointing for our community," she said.
"It's a place where people go to get away from the every day and putting a caravan park on that hill will spoil it for so many people."
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