Kangaroo Point Peninsula Dog Off-Leash Area

March 2021

Here’s an update on the proposed dog off-leash area (DOLA) for the northern end of Kangaroo Point. We’re now on the verge of locking in the location, which was effectively a choice between the northern end of CT White Park, or the northern end of James Warner Park. The results of our consultation seem to suggest that James Warner Park is the community's preferred location.

Given that the project has been a little more controversial than most minor park upgrades, I thought it would be worthwhile to set out as much info as possible on this one webpage to help residents understand the decision-making process so far, and how we’ve ended up here.


How close are existing dog off-leash areas?

Over the years, quite a few residents who live around KP (both those who do and don’t own dogs) have told me directly that they feel a designated, fully-fenced dog off-leash area is necessary for the northern end of Kangaroo Point. By ‘northern end’, we’re talking about the ‘peninsula’ part of the suburb, which is basically everywhere north of the Main St-Shafston Avenue intersection or everywhere north of Quinton St, depending on where you want to draw the line. It’s worth noting that the Lambert St/O’Connell St/Thorn St precinct also falls within the area of the Kangaroo Point Peninsula Neighbourhood Plan, and that many residents from this precinct travel into the northern end of the peninsula for recreation and leisure, because there are no parks and useable public spaces around Lambert Street.

The nearest existing DOLAs are in Raymond Park, which is a roughly 1.5km walk from Dockside and has an area of about 1400m2, and at Ivory St, Fortitude Valley, which has an area of about 750m2, and is approximately a 1.3km walk from Dockside (I’m using Dockside as a reference point as it’s one of the denser residential precincts and is roughly the midpoint of the peninsula).

The most recent publicly available data suggests there are 425 registered dogs in the suburb of Kangaroo Point. From an information request through the Brisbane City Council CEO’s office, we learned that about 180 dogs belong to households north of Cairns St, with a further large chunk in the Lambert St-O’Connell St precinct. (For those who are interested in the population breakdown for Kangaroo Point’s human residents, you can search the most recent published figures via the census website. In the map search, I recommend choosing ‘Statistical Areas Level 1’ or ‘Statistical Areas Level 2’ for a more fine-grain breakdown.)

When thinking about how accessible existing facilities are, it’s important to pay attention not just to the distance in metres, but to the amenity and accessibility of walking routes. While Ivory St and Raymond Park are both within 2km as the crow flies, the walking routes involve crossing multiple roads and major intersections, are along hot, noisy, major traffic corridors (a stressful environment for many dogs), and include sloping climbs that aren’t accessible for people with limited mobility.

 

Do we need another DOLA?

The majority of Kangaroo Point residents live in apartments without private backyards, and dog owners in the inner-city are necessarily more reliant on shared public spaces for their animals to get exercise. Personally I have concerns about the number of inner-city residents who buy larger dogs without thinking carefully about whether they actually have enough space for them, but that’s the reality we seem to be grappling with.

Recently, we’ve seen several ‘informal’ dog off-leash areas emerge around the Kangaroo Point peninsula, which inevitably causes conflict with private property owners and other public space users. Not everyone feels safe around unleashed dogs, and I’m troubled by how many people I’ve noticed exercising their dogs off-leash in unfenced spaces. Council inspectors do issue fines when they find dogs that are off-leash on public land, but they can’t be everywhere at once, and several of the publicly accessible spaces around Kangaroo Point are on private land (and thus council inspectors’ enforcement powers are more limited).

From the conversations I’ve had with residents, the emails and calls our office receives, and comments I’ve seen on social media, I do think there’s sufficient demand to justify a DOLA in the northern half of Kangaroo Point. I’ve even heard from a couple of residents who say they currently drive from the northern end of KP down to the Raymond Park DOLA, which isn’t great from a traffic perspective. The added benefit of creating a new local DOLA means that the intensity of use on existing DOLAs further away should be partially reduced (noting that the existing DOLA in Raymond Park currently also caters to a large catchment of residents from parts of East Brisbane and Woolloongabba and gets a lot of use).

 

Some recent history

Council officers and local residents have been talking about the potential for a new dog off-leash area for Kangaroo Point since well before I became a city councillor. I understand that my predecessor, Councillor Abrahams, explored a dog off-leash area in James Warner Park back in 2014/15, but that the project didn’t proceed due primarily to objections from immediate neighbours.

Since becoming councillor in 2016, I’ve had several conversations with council officers about possible locations for a DOLA. There’s more detail below about some of the options that have been considered over the years and excluded for various reasons.

 

What other locations were considered?

While the final poll asked residents to choose between James Warner Park, CT White Park or ‘No new DOLA,’ we initially looked at a much wider range of potential locations. We were looking for an area of at least 700m2 to 800m2, because experience from other DOLAs (e.g. the West End one along Riverside Drive near Hockings St) shows that smaller, intensively-used DOLAs can quickly turn into dust bowls. Here’s a rundown of some of the other locations we looked at and eventually dismissed before going out to full public consultation.

 

Captain Burke Park Beach

The sandy beaches at the northern end of the peninsula was excluded because they were:

  • Too small
  • Prone to tidal inundation and completely impractical to fence off
  • Technically not a council park (and would thus have required a lot more negotiation with the State Government to formalise a DOLA there)

Additionally, the sand is potentially contaminated with river bacteria, so we don’t really want to encourage dogs to dig there.

 

Open spaces in Captain Burke Park

There are a couple of open spaces around Captain Burke Park that could have accommodated a DOLA. However various council teams had concerns (which I agreed with) about using these spaces.

Captain Burke Park is a citywide destination park that gets a very high intensity of use. The various open spaces are frequently used for parties and picnics, and for active recreation like flying a kite, kicking a ball around and group exercise classes. They’re also used for a range of larger, formally-organised events including a surprising number of charity walks and fun runs.

It’s rare to find larger open spaces in the inner-city that can accommodate major events and aren’t directly adjacent to residential homes. Fencing off part of this park would have reduced its flexibility and availability for a wider range of uses that can’t easily relocate to any of the other parks around the KP Peninsula. The team that maintains the Story Bridge were also particularly opposed to a DOLA directly under the Story Bridge as they prefer to keep that area open for emergency access.

While it’s fair to say that James Warner Park and CT White Park can also be used for picnics and informal active recreation (and that fencing off part of these spaces would undermine that), they simply don’t get anywhere near the same level of use as Captain Burke Park. I think this is in large part due to the sandflies, which during the warmer half of the year can make hanging out in those parks for longer than 15 or 20 minutes very uncomfortable.

 

Open space at Dockside near ‘Ferryman’s Bridge’

The Evans Deakin Reserve is one of the most underutilised green spaces in Kangaroo Point, and apart from being only 10 metres from the nearest apartments, would have made a pretty good DOLA location. Unfortunately, this publicly accessible open green space is actually on private land, and has a development approval for two highrise towers up to 13 and 17 storeys in height.

I think it would be great if this green space was acquired by council and improved as a proper public park, but right now it’s on private land and can’t be used for a council-designated DOLA.

 

Kangaroo Point Cliffs Park

We also seriously considered the clifftop park near the intersection of Main St and River Terrace (the former site of Kangaroo Point TAFE and Kangaroo Point State School). Even with the constraint of having to avoid the Anzac Memorial at the northern end of the park next to St Mary’s, there probably is enough room for a DOLA in this park.

However we decided that it was too far south to serve the needs of residents from the northern and eastern parts of Kangaroo Point. The location is not particularly easy to walk to from the lower, northern end of the peninsula (the main walking route is along the noisy and uninviting stretch of Main St that approaches the Story Bridge), and it’s also quite a bit closer to the existing Raymond Park DOLA, so there’s less pressing need for a DOLA from residents who live nearby along River Terrace.

 

Green space at the corner of Rotherham St and Main St

The small ‘park’ next to the Story Bridge maintenance depot is quite central and accessible. However the total area is only around 400m2, and any DOLA in this area would also have to avoid the tree protection zones of the larger pine trees, meaning you could only fit a fenced DOLA of 180m2 maximum, which we decided was too small to be worth the trouble.

 

Environmental and wildlife impacts?

Any park facility, whether it’s a picnic shelter or a playground or a dog off-leash area, inevitably has some impact on the potential for wildlife to use that space. Ultimately it’s a question of balancing the needs of people (and dogs) with the needs of other species. Designating a particular space for dogs to play off-leash should hopefully have a positive effect in reducing the presence of dogs in some of the other parks around the KP peninsula.

The actual grassy lawns of the various parks around Kangaroo Point are of comparatively low environmental value, and don’t offer much shelter or foraging/hunting opportunities for birds, reptiles or mammals.

Council’s City Plan includes a ‘Biodiversity Overlay’ which maps areas that are currently of particular ecological significance, as well as strategic areas which the ecologists have identified should be revegetated in future to strengthen and preserve wildlife corridors.

The current Biodiversity Overlay includes some of the vegetated areas along the western riverfront of the Kangaroo Point Peninsula. I do not support a dog off-leash area within these areas that have been mapped as ‘General Ecological Significance,’ and any DOLA fence-lines will be required to leave a clear buffer zone to the vegetated areas that are used as nesting habitat for curlews, bush turkeys etc.

I would personally like to see more of these lawn areas replanted with denser vegetation and restored as scrubby bushland so that they can provide more habitat for native wildlife – including the strip of parkland across the road from 36 MacDonald St – but I think we still have to convince a few residents (and council parks officers) that this would be desirable.

Screenshot from Current City Plan 2014 mapping which shows areas in bright green as 'General Ecological Significance'
(This mapping should arguably be expanded to include some of the vegetated areas in Captain Burke Park, and further south along the KP cliffs, but BCC has been resistant to this)

 

What are the formal consultation requirements on a project like this?

The money for this DOLA is coming from the Gabba Ward’s local public space upgrades budget. Unlike with major park upgrades that might involve development applications, there’s actually no formal requirement for public consultation or submissions on projects like this.

While it would arguably be a lot better if all possible changes to existing parks were planned holistically as part of a participatory planning process that included residents, council officers, independent experts and other stakeholders, unfortunately the BCC administration doesn’t put any staffing or resources towards that kind of holistic planning, except in rare cases where a park is being dramatically impacted by a new major project.

The consultation and decision-making process is largely left up to local councillors, who take advice from the council officers who manage the parks. A councillor is free to decide for themselves how much consultation to undertake with residents, and what consultation processes they want to use. If residents don’t think the councillor has done a good job of consultation, they can keep that in mind when they vote at the next election, or they can pressure the Lord Mayor to intervene. For a more general write-up on how we strike the balance between the competing needs of different groups, have a read of this article on planning public space.

 

What was the informal consultation process to get to this point?

When deciding which park upgrade projects to fund out of my local budget, I use a participatory budgeting voting process to help determine priorities. In the 2020 round of this process, one of the projects we listed for residents to choose from was a dog off-leash area for the northern end of Kangaroo Point, identifying CT White Park near Hamilton St as the likely location. At the time CT White Park was listed in this participatory budgeting vote, the verbal advice we received from council officers was that James Warner Park was unlikely to attract support for a DOLA based on recent pushback to a proposed community garden in the same location, and on the previous resistance to a DOLA back when Helen Abrahams was councillor.

The main question that this stage of community consultation focusses on is whether we should allocate money from the budget to a DOLA. Once a project demonstrates enough public support to allocate money towards it, my approach is to conduct further consultation with local residents and council officers about exact location, design specifics etc. We take this approach because we don’t want to waste council officers’ time asking them to conduct detailed investigations into a long list of suggested projects if there’s not even a reasonable opportunity that funding will be available.

This round of community voting yielded some interesting insights. The Kangaroo Point DOLA received 147 votes to allocate funding to it, which was higher than most other project proposals in the list. But the proposal also attracted about 55 ‘dislike’ votes, as well as a few comments along the lines of ‘We agree we need a DOLA but we think a different location is preferable.’

I should note that because the voting system allows people to change their votes at any time, it’s not uncommon for the numbers in these polls to fluctuate a little bit over the course of consultation. Residents might initially vote one way, but after seeing commentary on social media or talking to neighbours they can log back in and change their vote, or occasionally they might even decide that they don’t actually know enough to make an informed choice, and remove their vote altogether.

Based on the voting results and associated comments, I felt there was enough public support to proceed with a DOLA project for the neighbourhood, and I asked the council officers to produce more details about exactly where in CT White Park it was feasible to locate the facility.

We waited until after the Christmas break, then in early January this year we sent out letters to residents adjacent to the proposed DOLA site in CT White Park advising them of the details. After this, we had a few emails and phone conversations with some of these neighbouring residents, and some back-and-forth discussion with council officers about exactly where the fence lines could and couldn’t go. (A key issue was the council arborist’s desire to keep some of the more sensitive tree species in CT White Park outside the fenced boundaries of the DOLA).

On Monday, 8 February, I met with a group of residents in CT White Park to hear some of their concerns about the proposal (the meeting last somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes). They asked why a broader public consultation about the best location for the DOLA hadn’t happened, noting that the previous community vote as part of the participatory budgeting process had primarily focussed on whether money should be allocated to a DOLA, rather than the more specific questions about what the best exact location might be.

At this meeting, I explained that I was reluctant to drag out the DOLA project with further rounds of consultation, as the community had been waiting a long time for this to be delivered. However I committed to ask council officers to look once more at the question of whether there were any other appropriate sites around the northern end of KP.

The administration got back to me and confirmed that the northern end of James Warner Park was still a feasible location for a DOLA, and that the key determining question would be which site had greater public support.

Accordingly, we went out to a final round of consultation on 17 February, asking residents via a poll whether they preferred a DOLA in CT White Park or James Warner Park, noting that no other locations were feasible. The poll was set up so that participants still had an option to vote for ‘No new dog off-leash area for the Kangaroo Point Peninsula’ and could then allocate a second preference to whichever location they preferred. The system allows us to see when users create their accounts, when they last logged in, and what IP address they use, but we can't actually see whether they've voted or the actual votes that were cast by individual accounts.

[Disclosure note: we removed a total of 4 duplicate accounts from the system which had Kangaroo Point as their nominated suburb. These accounts were created from the same device at the same time, without providing phone numbers as required, and with names that weren’t on the electoral roll. When I tried contacting these ‘residents’ via the emails they provided, it was quite obvious to me that they were fake accounts. We will restore these accounts (and any associated votes) if the creators get back to us to confirm that they are genuine local residents and not just the same person creating multiple accounts.]

Following requests from residents, I had a 2-hour meeting on Monday, 15 March with a group of residents who live near James Warner Park, to hear their concerns about the proposal.

The poll was promoted to close on Monday, 15 March. As of Tuesday, 16 March, the poll was showing 63% support for a DOLA in James Warner Park with 19% support for CT White Park and 18% for ‘no new DOLA’. (The accompanying images show the primary votes and the preferential flows)

Screenshot of live vote results as of Tuesday, 16 March

According to this poll, James Warner Park seems to be the clear preference out of the limited options available, even before preferences are allocated.

 

Inclusive consultation?

The poll was primarily promoted via:

  • Letters to the residential apartments that were within 30m of the two proposed sites
  • Signs attached to poles in the two parks
  • My email newsletters
  • Posts on my Facebook and Twitter pages
  • Social media posts in local community groups

While I would like to be able to undertake even more notification and consultation about minor park upgrades, the unfortunate reality is that with so many projects going on in our ward, I simply don’t have the staff resources and time to send out letters to a wider area or proactively contact individual residents who might be affected by every local park project. I’m also mindful that if I send out printed letters to some streets and not others (without having regard to those residents’ proximity to the sites in question), this can distort the results of consultation, because those neighbourhoods that do receive letters will be disproportionately over-represented in feedback processes even though they’re not directly affected by the project.

One of the challenges of these kinds of feedback processes is that while you don’t want to put up too many barriers for residents to have a say, it’s also not ideal to have a process where literally anyone can mindlessly vote without first informing themselves about the subject matter and thinking deeply about their choice. There’s an important distinction between online ‘direct democracy’ where people immediately click a button and cast a vote on something without thinking about it, versus ‘deliberative democracy’ where residents can still have a say via voting, but are also prompted to hear others’ perspectives and take the time to digest information before casting a vote  (this is one of the reasons that our polling system allows people to change their votes even after they’ve been cast).

Our consultation process for these local park upgrades certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s arguably a lot more meaningful and accessible than the consultation process council uses for neighbourhood planning and development approvals.

 

Next steps

Council officers have been asked to draw up a proposed map of the boundaries (including gate accesses, bin locations etc.) for a DOLA in James Warner Park (they’ve already done this for CT White Park). I'll be asking council to ensure there's a sufficient buffer to the vegetated habitat area along the river's edge, and a 20-metre buffer from the nearest residential homes.

I’ll circulate this map for resident comment once I get access to it. Assuming no major changes are required, I’ll then sign off on the funding allocation for the preferred option, which at this stage looks like being James Warner Park. Council will probably then go out to tender for the work, and construction would likely get underway before the end of the financial year.

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