Former Councillor Allan McGrath brought to our readers’ attention the sorry state of the Yass Courthouse in our front-page story “Justice for Yass” on Jul 29, 2020. Yass Valley Times revealed Yass Courthouse missed making the list of 64 courthouses across New South Wales which received on average $159,000 each in repairs and restoration funds. The spending spree was part of a 9-million-dollar stimulus funding package released by the state government earlier this year, aimed at boosting local economies during COVID. Mr McGrath called on our town’s leaders to do the landmark building justice and lobby for urgent repairs.

Mr McGrath has now turned a critical eye on the dark and dank alleyway in the heart of the town centre, abutting the Yass Soldier’s Memorial Hall.

The standard you walk past – Allan McGrath wants Council to improve the CBD starting with the laneway beside Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall

“It’s next to one of the iconic buildings of Yass; it’s right next to the main entrance to our library, what sort of a message does it send…caring community or don’t care?” questioned Mr McGrath.

“The broken latticework, it’s been like that for so long. Unless the place looks like the community cares for it, well you’re on the downward spiral. If we don’t care, we can’t expect anyone else to.”

Mr McGrath candidly shared his opinion on Yass township’s slipping standards.

“Yass overall suffers by comparison to most of the surrounding towns these days. There was a time when it set the standard.”

The laneway provides the only link from the main street to the library, historical archives, public toilets, Banjo Paterson Park, YECCA and Anglicare – Rae Burgess Centre/CWA room. It is a much-used connector footpath for young families, the elderly and school students alike. An attempt was made more than a decade ago to brighten one section with mosaic tile artworks.

“Yass deserves better. It’s been pretty unkempt and run down for a very long time. We’ve accepted it for a long time, and I think it’ time we cast a critical eye over some of the deficiencies in the central business area and see if we can come up with some solutions to make the main street a little more attractive.”

The former councillor said it’s time to take a good hard look at the whole town.

“Cast a critical eye and have a rethink on what we can and can’t do. This is a good place to start.”

Mr McGrath shared some ideas he has gathered from other communities.

“I think there are some pretty good examples in other towns; some planter boxes, decent sort of pots, paving for instance. That would be a great start; to repave it. Keep it covered. Put hanging baskets up. You could improve the lighting quite a bit.”

Guildford Lane in Melbourne demonstrates the beauty of greening up built form – a contrast to the damp and dark Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall lane-way

Councillors Geoff Frost and Kim Turner at the July meeting of council advised Councillors the Memorial Hall Committee discussed the item in 2018 and was expected to reconvene in August 2020.

Chairman of the Committee, Councillor Geoff Frost said the Memorial Hall Committee is very aware of the state of the Hall and its surroundings.

“It has just received a consultant’s report which canvassed public opinion regarding future directions for the hall. We are looking at this report and will advise Council regarding strategies for encouraging more productive use by the community as the Hall comes to its centenary in 2023. It would be great to have someone with Allan’s experience helping with this process.”

Allan McGrath is already thinking about what should be addressed next.

“Banjo Paterson Park has a lovely fence and entrance but boy it’s well overdue for a coat of paint and a bit of a clean-up. We could start here in the centre of town and work our way out.”

A former main-street shopkeeper, Allan was behind the counter for eleven years at Kids Blitz, a treasured toy shop on Comur Street until it’s closure and Allan’s retirement in 2017.

“I’m a bit concerned about the number of offices we have in the main street now. As you reduce retail, you reduce the traffic flow and that impacts on everyone else. I wonder why we’ve got what appear to be three employment agencies (with very few job opportunities in Yass) all occupying prime locations and paying I guess premium rents which most small business operators can’t do.

Mr McGrath wants Yass Valley council to invest in a main-street makeover.

“Council needs to lead from the front and spend a little bit of money in the CBD. As a start, our main street footpaths could do with a makeover. Set a standard for some of the landlords, perhaps, motivate some other people.”

Allan acknowledged new businesses such as Clementine Bakery and the expansion of Thyme to Taste Emporium is a positive and attractive addition which supports the dynamics of the main street economy.

“We can always turn it around.”