Woollahra Council divided over Knox Street pedestrian mall plan

He said Knox Street had none of the traits enjoyed by successful outdoor malls such as Sydney’s Pitt Street, Bourke Street in Melbourne or Adelaide’s Rundle Mall.

“There is no high density, there is no direct public transport infrastructure at its doorstep, you have to walk up the hill to Edgecliff, and it’s not a tourist destination,” Litver said. “Double Bay doesn’t tick any of those boxes.”

The concept design for Knox Street. Credit:Woollahra Council

Several speakers raised objections about a loss of parking in Double Bay, especially with a looming redevelopment of the nearby Cross Street carpark. Some said the concept was OK, but a trial would be preferable.

However, Woollahra Council’s infrastructure director Tom O’Hanlon said a trial would be useless.

“Just blocking it off and seeing what happens is meaningless,” he said. “Shutting it down for a month or so is not meaningful in any sense because it will take a long time for people to adjust and change their habits.”

“Having a bitumen pavement which is closed off at either end in no way is a representative trial compared to the beautiful public space that we’re going to create.”

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The council meeting was fiery at times, with councillors enforcing a rule that only one person may speak on behalf of each entity. A lawyer, Aaron Gadiel, said he had been engaged by Cosmopolitan DB Pty Ltd and strata owners in the Cosmopolitan building, but councillors wanted to know exactly who was instructing him.

“That’s a bit of an outrageous question,” Gadiel responded. “As a lawyer I represent those two companies. This isn’t an inquisition where you get to [violate] legal privilege.” He said the names were publicly available if councillors wanted to look them up.

Several councillors in favour of the plaza pointed out Double Bay had successfully pedestrianised nearby Kiaora Lane, on the other side of New South Head Road, which is now a bustling meeting spot packed with cafes.

But critics of the Knox Street plan said the difference was Kiaora Lane had the large Woolworths carpark.

Residents First councillor Mark Silcocks, who voted for the pedestrianisation plan to proceed, said the real concern was about people hanging around the plaza at night causing “unruly behaviour”.

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“But that’s no different to people spending too long saying goodbye outside [Neil Perry’s restaurant] Margaret or people leaving the [Royal] Oak [Hotel] now,” he said.

“If you shut a road it’s going to cause problems to cars, but not people. So when all the retailers and the businesses say ‘we’re terrified it’s going to end Double Bay’, that is not our intention and I just don’t see how that can happen because I don’t believe that those shops rely on 27 car spaces.”

Woollahra’s Liberal mayor Susan Wynne said the council had been looking at pedestrianising Knox Street since 2019 and in a post-COVID world it was recognised as best practice.

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