The Lane Cove Council has adopted a masterplan for the Bob Campbell Oval.
The Oval’s natural grass will be replaced with a synthetic surface. This plan has divided the community.
However, Lane Cove is not the only community that is fighting against synthetic surfaces. This led Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes to commission a study in response to community concerns about urban heat, and environmental and social impacts of synthetic surfaces.
“Synthetic turf has become increasingly popular for use on sporting fields in recent years,” said Mr Stokes.
“But there are significant concerns within the community about its use and councils need consistent guidelines that address the pros and cons.
On Friday 22 October 2021, the Synthetic Turf Study in Public Open Space report was released. It’s an initial report that outlines the potential social, environmental and economic impacts, benefits, and limitations of using synthetic turf as a replacement for natural grass in public open spaces.
As a result of the report Minister Stokes said:
“I have asked the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer to further investigate the impacts, and any alternatives that can be used in our parks and public spaces to support development of the state’s first set of guidelines.”
The initial report recommends:
- Providing consistent state-wide guidance to councils and industry in the planning, design and management of synthetic surfaces in public spaces;
- Reviewing the planning process to ensure the views of the community inform decisions regarding the use of synthetic versus natural turf surfaces; and
- Further research on the human health and natural environmental impacts, such as urban heat island effect, microplastics, use in bushfire-prone areas, social implications and surface alternatives.
To view the Synthetic Turf Study in Public Open Space visit planning.nsw.gov.au/policy-and-legislation/open-space-and-parklands/synthetic-turf-study
The following findings and recommendations from the Ethos Urban investigation bring together some of the different management and best practice approaches to help address key social, economic, and environmental issues identified in the consultation process and literature review conducted as part of the work.
Why is this report a problem for Lane Cove Council?
In response to the announcement of the Study, Lane Cove Councillors voted unanimously at their 17 May 2021 Council meeting as follows:-
“Council commit to complying with the outcomes NSW Government’s Review of Synthetic Turf Sports Fields”.
The study has found that further investigation is needed and that guidelines need to be drafted before a final report is released.
Lane Cove Council must therefore wait until the final report is released before installing the synthetic turf. Surely Lane Cove Council would want to install the synthetic turf in accordance with the latest guidelines?
Single Sport Field
One of the arguments against installing a synthetic field at Bob Campbell Oval is that it will no longer be able to be used for community use, dog walking, picnics, and will only be available for soccer. Cricket can be played on the oval but due to the short distance from the boundary to the wicket it will only be available for under 10 cricket. Making the oval predominately a soccer field. ITC found it interesting that one of the Lane Cove Council’s consultants also agrees that oval should be multipurpose.
In issue 145 of the Australian Leisure Magazine Martin Sheppard (Lane Cove’s Consultant) specifically stated that synethtic surfaces should be multi sport and not single use.
The Lane Cove Council has debated this issue on several occasions.
At a Lane Cove Council Extraordinary Meeting on 2nd August 2021, 33 speakers representing a broad cross-section of the community spoke about Lane Cove Council’s plans to install a synthetic surface at Bob Campbell Oval; all but two speakers asked the Lane Cove Council not to proceed with the synthetic oval.
At least five of the speakers were soccer players, and they did not want the oval to change from natural turf. Others spoke about how Bob Campbell is the only decent open space in East ward and acts as the “village green”, representing the heart of the community.
A few people spoke about how the proposed design breaks up the space and would corral non-players into a narrow corridor along the edges of the proposed playing pitch. Children spoke about birds’ food sources and how they did not want to play on artificial turf. One speaker raised concerns about mental health issues and how it is essential to maintain a natural environment.
The Lane Cove Council Councillors voted 4 in favour and 4 against the proposal. Mayor Pam Palmer used her casting vote to give the Lane Cove Council the go-ahead to convert the oval into a synthetic turf oval.
Precinct Support Scheme Grant
Lane Cove Council applied for a Precinct Support Scheme grant. The Precinct Support Scheme (PSS) is an $85 million local infrastructure grants program that aims to support urban renewal and sustainable growth in planned precincts by providing funding for public and open space projects.
The Lane Cove Council application stated Lane Cove Council was seeking funding of $3.62 million for:
- Upgrades to Bob Campbell Oval at Greenwich including an all-weather synthetic field, accessible amenities block containing a storage room and kiosks, lighting; and
- The construction of a shared user path to connect the Oval to the St Leonards-Crows Nest Precinct.
The grant was awarded to the Lane Cove Council by the DPIE.
Lane Cove Council has now changed its plans, and they will be using the entire $3.62 million for the construction of the synthetic field only.
Contract Award Despite Outstanding Issues
On 16th August 2021, the Lane Cove Council resolved:
1. The tender for the provision of Construction and Installation of Synthetic Sports Field and associated infrastructure at Bob Campbell Oval be awarded to Synergy Turf Manufacturing Pty Ltd for an amount of $3,293,692.33 ex GST;
2. The General Manager enter into contract for the work, such contract to ensure Council has no obligation to proceed should the future Part 5 assessment not result in approval of the project;
3. Council note DPIE have indicated that they do not have additional funds available for the project at this time, and continue to pursue opportunities for additional funding from DPIE to cover the additional costs of the project due to inflationary cost escalation and innovations to create the nation’s most environmentally sensitive synthetic playing field; and
4. In the event DPIE and NSFA funding does not cover the full cost of the project, Council fund the balance of the project by varying the 2021/2022 Budget, and including in the 2022/23 budget if necessary, additional funds from s7.11 Developer Contributions.
ITC understands that the General Manager has now signed the contract with Synthetic Sports Field Pty Ltd. It is understood that a non-refundable deposit will be paid. The deposit amount has not been disclosed, but it is understood that it is not more than $100,000.
Residents are asking why is there a rush to enter into this contract when the following is still outstanding:
- The NSW Minister for Planning is currently reviewing the use of synthetic sports grounds;
- The Lane Cove council revoked its Review of Environmental Factors after receiving a legal letter from The Natural Grass for Bob Campbell Oval Inc, who pointed out deficiencies in the REF. A second REF is now being prepared.
- The DPIE has advised ITC that Lane Cove Council has not asked for a variation of the Precinct Support Scheme Grant, and they must do that, and the request for variation will have to be assessed.
A DPIE spokesperson told ITC the following:
“The Department has not received any formal advice from Council that they have changed their plans to use the whole $3.62 million for the Synthetic Field Only. If they wish to do so, they would need to make a variation request that would be subject to a formal assessment process.”
Why would you enter into a contract with a non-refundable deposit when there are matters which could mean the contract cannot proceed?
Members of the public are concerned that if the green light is given to convert the oval into a synthetic surface, works will start asap, and Bob Campbell Oval will be out of action at a time when the community more than ever needs open spaces.
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