The continued use of the Carlton Gardens for the annual Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) ignited passions amongst councillors when debated last month.
At the June 7 Future Melbourne Committee meeting, councillors split into opposing pro-economic development and pro-preservation of world heritage gardens camps.
The closure of the southern end of the gardens every summer for the show has long been a source of aggravation for local residents.
But with the current agreement for the 21-year-old event coming to an end, council finance chair, Cr Stephen Mayne, rather provocatively proposed an early renewal to allow future certainty.
Cr Mayne has characterised the opponents of the show as “NIMBYs”. In his regular email bulletin before the meeting he said: “The NIMBYs have a strategy of lodging endless nit-picking challenges to MIFGS and I got a taste of that yesterday when lawyer and close adviser to Cr Jackie Watts, Michael Kennedy, bombarded me with 34 tweets in a day. These got so abusive and defamatory in the end, he was blocked, something I rarely do.”
On the night, however, Cr Mayne was more inclined to highlight the positive contribution that the show had made to the City of Melbourne over the past 21 years.
“It would be a travesty if this council, or any future council, pulled the rug on a magnificent event that doesn’t get any cash contribution from council,” he said.
Cr Watts argued that it was premature for the council to make any decisions about the future of the show in the absence of any formal analysis. She said the southern end of the garden was suffering loss of tree canopy.
“I was completely gob-smacked to hear our officers talking about how they didn’t have to repair as much as last year. In world-heritage gardens!” Cr Watts said. “We shouldn’t be talking about remediation. We should be talking about improvement.”
Cr Arron Wood said: “I’m comfortable as chair of environment that everything is being done for the protection of those trees.”
“I’m comfortable that an event like this should be given longevity when there is a campaign to remove it from the gardens,” he said.
Cr Cathy Oke said the argument was not about support of the event but, rather, whether the Carlton Gardens was an appropriate location for it.
“It is appropriate to be questioning the timing of this. And isn’t about being a NIMBY. I’m actually questioning it as a responsible councillor, elected to make responsible decisions and, on that note, I do like to make decisions with data in front on me,” she said. “I don’t support this and I’m quite angry that it’s in front of us.”
The council narrowly voted to authorise officers to start negotiating a six year extension to the event. Councillors Riley, Louey, Mayne, Ong, Pinder-Mortimer and Wood supported the motion and councillors Foster, Leppert, Oke and Watts opposed it.