Plea to block Fringe road closure rejected

A city councillor has failed in a bid to knock back an Adelaide Fringe request to close Rundle Rd for six weeks for next year’s event – but other councillors say they might still vote against the plan following public consultation.

Jul 05, 2023, updated Aug 07, 2023
Rundle Road. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily

Rundle Road. Photo: David Simmons/InDaily

Adelaide Fringe organisers have applied to Adelaide City Council to close Rundle Road in the East End from February 7 to March 21 next year.

The six-week closure will allow the expansion of the Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony to include two new venues of 800 and 1000 seats that will spill onto Rundle Road.

Organisers say the new venues would host up to four shows a day for 28 days and improve disability access for the Fringe Corner Box Office.

A council committee considered the request on Tuesday night and whether to refer it for three weeks of public consultation ahead of a decision in September.

But Central Ward councillor Simon Hou moved to immediately block the Fringe’s request.

“I don’t want to muck around with it – let’s make the decision tonight,” Hou said, adding that he wanted to “save our administration” from going through public consultation and not give Fringe organisers “misleading hope” about the road closure.

Hou, a member of the so-called Team Adelaide faction, said council had demonstrated its support for the Adelaide Fringe last week when it reached a compromise on re-introducing fees for park lands event hire.

He argued that while the Adelaide Fringe is a “wonderful event” it “leaves other precincts such as Gouger Street, Hindley Street and Rundle Mall facing a downturn”.

He also said council had made a “promise” to ratepayers last year that a more than three-month closure of Rundle Road for the 2022 Illuminate Adelaide festival would be a “one-off situation”.

“Closing Rundle Road for such a long period is an epic cost that goes beyond what we can already offer,” he said.

“Perhaps most importantly, I want to highlight that the potential… worse effects of the proposed road closure on our local businesses and residents in the East End area.

Councillor Simon Hou. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“In principle, a closed road might seem beneficial to some, but we cannot forget the negative impact it will have on the others.

“While I’m in full support of the initiative [to] enrich our cultural landscape and bring people together, such support should never come at the expenses of other stakeholders.”

But Hou’s motion was lost after only he and area councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh supported it.

Central Ward councillor David Elliot said rejecting the road closure without public consultation would be “a denial of due process”.

“We have an obligation as council to make sure this does go through all the steps that are appropriate and allow the public to have their say rather than directly intervene,” he said.

“I think it’s unfair to the event organisers and the applicants to take this step.”

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Acting Lord Mayor Phillip Martin, who yesterday indicated his support for the road closure, said council receives around 100 applications for road closures every week.

“There is nothing nefarious. There is nothing untoward about the process; what would be untoward would be if we rejected that process,” he said.

The council committee is not a decision-making body and only drafts recommendations for the council chamber to consider adopting.

But it remains open to councillors to reject the road closure when the public consultation results come back in September 2023.

Council CEO Clare Mockler said that could prompt an intervention from the state government which has the power to close Rundle Road without the consent of council.

Last year, the government overruled the previously-elected council’s refusal to close Bartels Road for the Harvest Rock Festival.

Several councillors indicated they were inclined to agree with Hou’s opposition to the Fringe road closure.

The former Adelaide City Council backed closing Rundle Road for more than three months for Illuminate Adelaide, but not a four-day Bartels Road closure for the 2022 Harvest Rock festival. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Central Ward councillor Carmel Noon said she would not support Hou’s attempt to reject the Fringe road closure immediately but that was “not because I disagree with councillor Hou”.

“I think listening to our ratepayers is what we should do so that does inform our decisions,” she said.

South Ward councillor Mark Siebentritt said he remained “squarely on the fence on this at the moment” and could “really see the arguments for and against”.

Fellow South Ward councillor Keiran Snape circulated a council letter sent to East End residents and traders in June last year informing them that Rundle Road would be closed from June 13 to September 4, 2022.

The letter, signed off by the council CEO, notes a resolution of council on May 24, 2022, that Illuminate Adelaide’s Rundle Road closure is a “one-off occurrence given the specific and exceptional circumstances in place this year”.

Snape argued that “it was implied there was a promise made that we would not close the road again”.

“And then since then I’ve now heard there’s been work done behind the scenes for many months getting to this point between administration and the (Fringe) organisers,” he said.

“And I think that is unfair to residents and it’s unfair to the organisers.”

Snape told InDaily after the meeting: “I strongly believe that the public consultation will oppose the closure and that as a result councillors will most likely reject the closure of Rundle Road and its footpaths.”

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