Police blast Govt over $90m Gepps Cross barracks

The SA police union boss says moving police horses and dogs out of the city to Gepps Cross at a cost of $90m is “one of the most cynical, self-serving actions I’ve ever seen from an SA government”, accusing it of being willing to “dud everyone” to protect its Adelaide MP at the next election.

Sep 01, 2023, updated Sep 01, 2023
An impression of the proposed Gepps Cross police barracks. Image: SA Govt

An impression of the proposed Gepps Cross police barracks. Image: SA Govt

The SA Police Association blast came after the government today released the cost and a single architectural image of the proposed new facility, which it said would be “purpose-built, modern and consider animal welfare principles”.

The site on government-owned land near the State Sports Park around 9km north of the CBD will include 32 stables, an undercover arena, a separate area for kennels and training facilities for the SA Police Dog Operation Unit.

Police horses at Thebarton barracks. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The estimated cost for relocating the police horse and dog units from their current state heritage-listed Thebarton barracks – due to be razed for a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital – is $90 million, which includes work to upgrade access roads, and should be complete by mid-2024.

Moving the police units has been a fraught political process for the state government, which was forced to veto SA Police’s first choice of an 8ha site on Park 21W in the southern park lands near Greenhill Rd.

The plan was vociferously opposed by Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith, park lands and environmental groups, with the backlash considered a potential election issue for new Adelaide Labor MP Lucy Hood.

The government then announced a potential new site west of the city near Adelaide Airport, but police soon told a parliamentary committee about concerns over the distance from the CBD as well as possible PFAS contamination.

A disused equestrian centre on the southern tip of Adelaide Airport was short-listed as a possible new police horse barracks site. Photo: Matt Turner/InDaily

In early August the government ruled out the airport site and said the barracks would be moved to Gepps Cross – prompting Police Commissioner Grant Stevens to air his frustration about the process, saying the third site was “not optimal”.

Announcing details and cost of the Gepps Cross site today, Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said the government was “working closely with SA police to deliver a new, purpose built home for the police greys and dogs”.

“We are investing in better facilities to ensure our police have a modern workplace, in line with other jurisdictions, to better support them in keeping the community safe,” he said.

“Unlike the current site, Gepps Cross will meet the needs of police for decades to come. This is a vital step towards a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital and we are getting on with the job.”

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But Police Association president Mark Carroll immediately blasted the move.

“They want to take Mounted Operations to a location more than 10km from the CBD, when they know that 82 per cent of the unit’s taskings happen in the city, particularly the entertainment precinct,” he said in a statement.

“And they’re doing it at more than double the cost of the proposed park lands site.

“Why? The answer is that they’ve buckled to the slightest bit of pressure from the Adelaide City Council over the park lands site and in the process sent a clear message to Police Association members and the SA community: they’re willing to dud everyone involved, so they can retain the seat of Adelaide at the next election.”

Carroll said the Gepps Cross relocation cost was “approximately $50 million more than the original proposed relocation site in the CBD park lands” and that the “full proposal shows that members of the Malinauskas government have offered police and the SA community the worst of both worlds”.

“This isn’t about new facilities. If it was, they would’ve settled on the park lands site. Our Mounted Operations members have been providing the SA community with outstanding service from Thebarton Barracks for more than a century. They believe in serving the community, not shiny new toys miles away from where the taskings are,” Carroll said.

“It’s truly one of the most cynical, self-serving actions I’ve ever seen from an SA government.

“One of the saddest parts is that it’s been aided and abetted by a Police Commissioner who no longer seems interested in serving the interests of his workforce, but rather acting as a proxy government minister.”

Mullighan said the $90 million cost was “inline with what we were expecting to spend from the outset”.

“We were looking at $80-90 million in the south park lands,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

Mullighan also said that the government knew when it short-listed the previous airport site that the land was subject to an agreement with airport management and a company hoping to build a water park.

“What the Government was advised was that the airport was in preliminary discussions with a group that was looking at developing a wave park down at that site and they had a period of time extending into July of this year, so some weeks ago, and now certainly well expired,” he said.

“But what we were most concerned about – both the Government and SAPOL – were the concerns around PFAS. Airport sites around the country have PFAS on them, and when you detect even minimum amounts of PFAS that means you’ve got to go through a very arduous, expensive and rigorous process to do some contamination testing to see if those sites are appropriate for development.”

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