Sports Precinct

The proposed sports precinct continues to divide opinion, in the community, among sports clubs, and on the outgoing council itself. If implemented, it will change the way our city works in a very important way. It will have a huge impact on the weekly lives of many of our citizens, especially our young people. It is one of the most extensive (and expensive) pieces of public infrastructure proposed in many years.

Future planning is great. Good planning is better. If I am given the opportunity, I will seek to have the project reviewed thoroughly, and implement the community consultation that should have occurred in the first place.

I have an open mind on the project but I believe, whatever one’s initial response, that this $52 million idea needs very careful scrutiny. Many issues arise, including:

• Is this what the sporting clubs want? Will it enhance their ability to develop their sports into the future? How much better is it than the existing facilities? Or is it better to upgrade those?
• Is it sufficiently accessible, especially for school children who presently access their sports fields by bicycle?
• Is it affordable, and what ongoing returns/cost can we expect?
• Does it have broad public support?
• We will need additional facilities at some stage, but is this project premature?
• Is the layout of the proposed site going to achieve its goals?

Read on for more detail.

Need, suitability, public support?
We really are in the dark as to the attitude of the various sporting bodies. We have little but anecdotal information to go on. I have spoken to active members who are not at all enthusiastic, but the public deserves some hard data to assess the degree of support or otherwise. Certainly the level of public support indicated so far is not compelling.

One concern is accessibility for young players. The Tavistock Street fields are comfortably close to many of our schools. The Nikenbah site will necessitate most parents driving their kids to training. Have we considered the risk that this may decrease rather than enhance participation?

Can new bike paths alleviate this concern? There are no plans out there for this. Is there an argument for keeping Tavistock St and limiting the new facilities to fewer sports at least for the time being? What would this do to the feasibility of the project?

Cost, affordability, benefit?
With a cost currently estimated at around $52M, can we afford this project, and what will it return? The ratepayer spend is supposed to be limited to $10M (actually $13M if one includes the Woods Rd upgrade), relying on Federal or State funding for the balance. It seems the outgoing council will spend more ratepayer money before other funding is assured. That would be folly. We have no use for extensive car parks in the middle of a deserted paddock.

Is it a good investment? The council has commissioned a study which suggests it is. However the study relies on a number of assumptions many of which cannot be adequately tested at least from the information presently in the public domain. Is it good guessing or bad guessing?

The economic study is complicated, and has some obvious problems. It sets out a cost/benefit analysis which concludes that there is positive benefit from the project. However the study works on a completed project cost of $43.7M, which is well below the current estimate. In addition, the positive assessment also depends on ascribing a financial value to the “amenity benefit” of the precinct. That is, it gives a dollar value to the additional enjoyment users will get compared to the existing facilities. But this is not a monetary return at all and in strictly financial terms, without the amenity benefit, the cost/benefit is negative.

The Plan has problems
The plan itself needs more work. One of the selling points has been that it will attract pre-season games from national teams of codes like the AFL or NRL. But the plans have very limited spectator facilities. There are no grandstands. The AFL (or “premier”) fields have proposed only a grassed embankment, the rugby fields have nothing. There are no TV broadcast facilities. It is doubtful the national codes will want to send teams here without catering to a decent crowd and television broadcasts. Changes can be made, but we need to know how this affects the cost, and the impact on the site.

There are other issues with the plan. Some of the council publicity refers to an athletics track, but close examination of the plan reveals that this is situated where the hockey fields are supposed to go. Which is it to be? Who knows.

This issue is complex, and I believe it would be unfair to both sides of the dispute to commit to a decision before seeing and testing all the material the old council has relied on, investigating any proposed amendments to the plan, and getting some real data on the views of the sporting clubs and the wider community.

I can assure you, however, that the matter will be given a very thorough and unbiased appraisal before I commit the ratepayers’ funds to it.

The outgoing council has just rejected a bid to put further expenditure on hold until the election. It is hard to escape the suspicion that the majority of the council are determined to push ahead in the hope that the matter will be too far advanced to be stopped by the incoming council. Sadly this is typical of the current style. It would be better to defer for a few months than continue to spend ratepayers’ funds on a project that may not be able to proceed.