A local businessman has vowed to continue his fight to reinstate a maze in Weston Park despite battling bureaucracy for five years to have the Canberra icon returned.
This month he received a letter from the ACT Government that he was eligible for the direct sale of the land required for the maze.
He said it had taken five years and $12,500 in application fees to get to that point. Mr Perkins said he believed it was difficult for small business people to get ahead with projects in the ACT.
“All these big guys with big projects seem to get pushed, but the little guys get stuck on this treadmill – well in this maze – of bureaucracy and it frustrates us enough that we end up giving up,” he said.
Mr Perkins now has to submit the works approval for the maze to the National Capital Authority.
He is determined to go ahead with the project, replacing the old koppers logs with timber boards and adding a water maze and beehive maze in the centre. It would be built near the miniature railway and cafe. A hedge maze would be too costly to maintain.
“It’ll be about three-quarters of an acre,” he said.
A second-generation Canberran, Mr Perkins was encouraged to bring back the maze by his own childhood memories of playing on it, but also by the blueprint for Weston Park.
The Weston Park masterplan in 2013 recommended the ACT government consider “the feasibility of reinstating the maze either as a government capital works project or in partnership with a commercial operator on a lease”.
Mr Perkins said in 2015 he approached Chief Minister Andrew Barr who directed him to a senior ACT planning executive. The executive told him the return of the maze was a “no-brainer”.
The government could help with clearing the land, subsidies on application fees and a peppercorn rent, he was told.
“[The executive] said, ‘What do we need to make this happened?’ and he made lots and lots of promises then never came through. Once it started to filter through other departments, it all became too hard for them,” Mr Perkins said.
Already in Weston Park with his business running facilities including the miniature railway and cafe, Mr Perkins said he had hoped the government would follow the Weston Park masterplan and form some kind of partnership with him to get the maze up and running again.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr this week expressed his support for the return of the maze but stopped short of promising any partnership.
“The return of the Yarralumla maze is exciting for Canberra families,” Mr Barr said.
“The ACT government is pleased to support the redevelopment of the maze through the authorisation of a direct sale via land rent to Mr Perkins.”
When asked if any kind of partnership was feasible or any offers of incentives such as a peppercorn rent would be offered, Mr Barr said that if Labor was re-elected at the October 17 poll, it would look at funding to make the maze COVID-safe.
“If re-elected, ACT Labor will establish an ACT Tourism Demand Driver Program, to support local businesses and non-government organisations like the Canberra Maze with matched funding to invest in their businesses to make them COVID-safe,” Mr Barr said.
Mr Perkins said another bitter pill to swallow was that he had been told by tourism officials he could be a good candidate for $250,000 in infrastructure funding through a federal government grant but had to step away from contention because he had nothing approved.
Despite these obstacles, the maze was a still a dream he’d like to realise.
It would be billed as a tourist attraction with paid entry.
“I’d like to get it done because I remember it from my childhood and there’s been universal support for it,” Mr Perkins said.
“There’s enough people now who were born in Canberra and remember it. “
Mr Perkins said he had plans to make the maze more engaging, including towers people had to reach or scavenger hunts.
The water maze would have curtains of water that could turn on and off and people had to choose the right way to go.
“I really wanted to find a maze that would change while you were in it,” he said.
The beehive maze would have doors that opened into other sections, some of which were the right way, others the wrong way.
A spokesperson for the National Capital Area said the proposed maze was within a designated area and a works approval was required from the authority.
“The NCA has provided pre-application advice to Mr Perkins, however, no works approval application has been submitted,” the spokesperson said.
“The NCA endeavours to assess applications within 15 business days, however this can take longer if public consultation and third party referrals are required.
“The proposal will be assessed against the National Capital Plan and the heritage values of Weston Park will be taken into consideration as part of the NCA works approval assessment.”