Town square plan

The Mt Barker and District Residents’ Association’s proposal for a town square on privately owned land in Mt Barker’s town centre is extremely ambitious.

Asking a major retailer like Woolworths to gift land to the community is being breathtakingly hopeful.

Expecting a cash-strapped Mt Barker Council or State Government to pay millions to acquire it may also be in the realms of fantasy.

But there is no denying that such a public space is exactly what Mt Barker’s town centre is lacking.

For years it has struggled without a public “heart”.

Historic Gawler Street is a drawcard, but there are few sheltered spaces for people to meet, relax and socialise outside the nearby businesses.

Visit most other regional towns of a similar size and you will find a central public space where children can safely run around, workers can escape the office for lunch and people can gather together for special community events.

While Mt Barker has the well-used and much-loved Keith Stephenson Park, as well as beautiful green spaces along its linear trail, both are too far from the retail hub for most people to use regularly during the day.

As Mt Barker has grown in size its sense of community has diminished and the provision of a central public hub as suggested by the association may help address this social shortcoming.

The site is already one of the most talked about in the town, with high community interest in its future ever since Woolworths proposed its $40m Big W shopping complex.

That development was rejected by the council in 2012 because it didn’t comply with key planning controls.

At the time the council made it clear that it wanted to see a high-quality development that would make the most of the town’s last undeveloped block.

Woolworths is yet to unveil any new plans for the land.

As the owner of the bulk of the block it is well within its rights to build whatever it chooses, subject to planning approvals.

However, it seems to recognise the significance of the site and appears to be open to hearing the community’s ideas.

As the association points out, there is just one chance to “get it right” on that site.

So while the town centre vision may be ambitious, it is worth investigating.

It may be a long and difficult process involving complex negotiations between landowners, the council and Government that may lead nowhere.

But the only real way to guarantee such a proposal falls over is by failing to fight for it in the first place.