Wollongong councillors will be forced to weigh up competing views of Botanic Garden volunteers and hundreds of junior footballers as they deliberate over a University of Wollongong plan to install a synthetic pitch at Kooloobong Ovals.
Debating a UOW proposal to spend $7 million on public works in exchange for a waiver on development taxes – which includes a $3.2 million upgrade and 20 year licences on the football ovals – deputy mayor David Brown warned clashes between land users would become more common as the city’s population grows.
“The city is growing, we are running out of land and for all of our community facilities there is going to be a need to share,” he said at Monday night’s council meeting.
“That might be two similar sporting clubs sharing… or quite dissimilar organisations sharing our facilities. People shouldn’t think they have a mortgage on these things just because they use it already or have particularly articulate people on their side.”
During the meeting’s public forum Barry Baird, from Friends of the Botanic Gardens told councillors his group opposed the plan, as giving UOW a 20 year licence to use Kooloobong ovals would “excise” a corner of the gardens.
He said the volunteer group believed the synthetic pitch proposal was incompatible with the management plan for the gardens, and contrary to a state heritage listing for Glennifer Brae.
“It would have a negative impact of the rainforest and bird species, it eliminates planned development for the botanic gardens, it exacerbates parking problems and has vast environmental issues relating to the artificial turf,” he said.
Mr Baird also said the upgrade was contrary to the “Deed of Gift” given to the council by the Hoskins family.
He said there had been “overwhelming objections” from the community, and argued the university should be asked to resubmit its spending plan without the football upgrade.
But president of UOW’s junior football club Marcello Chiodo told councillors the new pitch would provide huge social benefits for his 450 members.
The club plays mainly at Beaton Park, he said, but move to a synthetic pitch at Kooloobong would allow it to expand as the inner city population grows.
“As you’re well aware, the access to sporting facilities for winter organised sports is at a premium,” he said.
He also said the club was likely to be able to play more games each season on a synthetic pitch, as the current grass pitch at Beaton Park usually wore out during the season or was unusable during rain.
After a long debate, councillors voted 10-2 to place the university’s deal back out on public exhibition.
This would allow council staff to address the issued raised by residents during the first round of consultation, councillors said.
Cr Brown asked that staff responses be given to councillors before they are made publicly available, and that previous community responses be considered during the second round of consultation.
Greens councillors Mithra Cox and Cath Blakey voted against the second round of consultation, arguing that the university’s plan was not designed to benefit the wider community.
Other councillors supported the new consultation, but raised concerns that UOW’s proposed upgrades should not be approved before a new master plan for the Botanic Garden was complete.