Background on Hosken Reserve
This aerial view shows how Hosken Reserve is currently used. City of Moreland plans to rip up the grass oval, some of the grass to the east of it, and the reserve's $1.5 million sustainable watering system.
The southern full-sized soccer pitch is used exclusively by Pascoe Vale Football Club.
Tender documents show how much plastic turf will be rolled out. Once fencing is installed, there will be little green space left for anything or anyone but soccer and club soccer players.
Grass Oval Set to be Ripped up and replaced with Synthetic Soccer Pitch
Residents of the small hub of Merlynston in Coburg North recently learned their local council (with funding assistance from the Victorian Government and Pascoe Vale FC) will completely transform their only community recreation space in early 2021. The oval space currently used for soccer training and by community members for their own recreation will be converted to plastic turf soccer pitches with fencing - effectively privatising 80% of the space and leaving many residents with no easily accessible open space to exercise.
Locals only found out via social media after the project went to tender
We found out about this plan on September 23, 2020 via social media. Since then a petition to City of Moreland to halt this project has gained nearly 3000 signatures and Merlynston's residents have rallied during the Covid-19 pandemic to fight this secret process and to keep our local park accessible and useful for everyone.
Moreland Council never made these plans public
Merlynston’s 1100 households didn't know of these plans to convert Hosken Reserve to a soccer-only venue because City of Moreland did not consider us, the local ratepayers and users of the space, as stakeholders. When council staff decided to deviate significantly from Moreland's 2009 Masterplan for Hosken Reserve, no one informed local residents. Sports organisations were consulted, and Victorian government departments - but no local residents. It seems other departments within Moreland were unaware plans were afoot to convert the grass oval to synthetic, as council invested $1.5 million in a stormwater harvest to keep the grass over in good shape four years ago.
Locals only consulted on an entirely different plan (11 years ago)
Merlynston residents were consulted about Hosken Reserve in 2007-2009 as City of Moreland began its Masterplan process. At the time Moreland considered three options to improve soccer facilities. None of these options involved ripping out the oval. All involved plans to convert the area east of the oval to a training-sized soccer pitch. Consultants recommended City of Moreland consider converting the southern, existing full-sized soccer pitch to synthetic in future, but they recommended the oval area be replanted with warm season grass so it would better withstand many uses and users. This plan was adopted and in 2016 the sustainable watering system was installed.
Download the original (and only existing) Hosken Reserve Masterplan here: it was subject to local consultation.
Plans change by stealth?
Some time after 2016 City of Moreland staff appear to have changed their designs on Hosken Reserve. But it's not even clear when council formally adopted a plan to convert the grass oval to synthetic soccer pitches. If there was a plan to convert the shared grass oval area to synthetic soccer pitches, it was never made explicit. No attempts were made to engage the opinion of local residents and any references to Hosken Reserve in public council meetings, reports and strategic frameworks were so oblique that no one suspected the shared grass recreation space was in jeopardy.
At the July 2016 council meeting a report on Moreland's synthetic soccer pitches states 'the installation of the Hosken Synthetic Pitch will enable Council to fulfil its commitment to the North West Regional Football Strategy... and Hosken Reserve Masterplan also adopted by Council on 8 April 2009 (DSD10)'. But while the 2009 Masterplan resolved to convert the oval to a full-sized grass soccer pitch, this 2016 report describes a project scope that includes the 'construction of one (1) full size 4th generation synthetic soccer pitch.' It does not specify where, although the 2009 Masterplan recommended the southern soccer pitch for conversion to synthetic (not the North West oval).
In a report to council's April 2018 meeting (pp. 287-291 agenda) Sports Surface Needs Analysis D18/102018 it is recommended that a synthetic pitch be installed at 'Hosken Reserve North' and the existing, fenced southern soccer pitch used by Pascoe Vale FC be converted to hybrid. But even here it's not clear whether Hosken North might refer to the site proposed for a synthetic training pitch in 2008 or if it could refer to the grass community oval.
Then, in mid-2019, Moreland’s Draft Sport and Active Recreation Strategic Framework lists the creation of a synthetic pitch at Hosken Reserve as one of its capital projects. It does not specify where the pitch will be located within Hosken Reserve and also does not include local Merlynston residents in a list of consulted stakeholders.
After securing $500,000 from the Victorian Government, City of Moreland put plans to convert the grass oval to a full-sized synthetic soccer pitch out to tender, two days before entering the election caretaker period. Four days later a Merlynston resident saw the plans on Pascoe Vale FC's Facebook page.
These plans never made public
The plans are not - and never appear to have been - available on council's website. To this day you can only see the plans if you downloaded the tender documents. This is despite council’s 2018 commitment to do a much better job engaging with ratepayers and despite City of Moreland acknowledging in 2019 (October meeting) it lacked transparency on reserve masterplanning. At the October 2019 meeting council staff recommended plans for reserves be placed on council's website. There is still no information on council's dedicated reserve masterplan page about converting Hosken's community space to synthetic soccer pitches.
Even councillors did not realise the Masterplan had changed
Unfortunately this new project was endorsed by the incumbent council (2016-2020). Some councillors say they didn't realise the community had not been briefed or given a chance to input since before 2009, or that plans had changed drastically since then. Some say they did not realise the plans related to a shared community space but instead believed the exisiting, fenced-off soccer pitch was being converted to synthetic. It seems a lack of transparency contributed to at least some councillors believing (or assuming) the upgrades they approved for funding were consistent with the Masterplan and/or had been subject to broad consultation.
New plan fails to adhere to many Moreland policies and strategies
This is just the latest (but most serious) in a series of consultation blunders by Moreland over its recreation spaces (Gillon Park, Methven Park, Campbell Reserve). But besides an almost complete lack of transparency, the Hosken Reserve project fails to adhere to many other council strategies and plans, including addressing the climate emergency and urban heat island effects and improving municipal health and wellbeing by providing adequate recreation space for all its residents.
Moreland’s Open Space Strategy recognises the importance of green recreation spaces suitable for all - no matter their age or mobility – in seeking to provide parks close to our homes and to consult with residents at planning and design stage. But if this new Hosken Reserve plan proceeds many Merlynston residents will no longer have fair access to a park within the recommended walking distance (500m) from home. Council documents and Pascoe Vale FC have claimed that soccer players could or will use the future synthetic pitches at Hosken Reserve up to 70 hours per week.
Going backwards on environment
Locals were consulted about layground upgrades and the 2016 stormwater harvest project. Moreland's water recycling investment has kept our oval’s grass in good shape for all the foot traffic it receives, and keeps all those who recreate in Hosken Reserve cooler. Now this grass is to be torn up and replaced with plastic, very little of which can be recycled. This plastic pitch will need to be completely replaced within 8-10 years at an expected cost of $1m+. City of Moreland has not explained the rationale behind converting a multi-purpose, environmentally friendly recreation space into a single-use space for a minority of Moreland residents (those actively engaged in club soccer).
Four soccer pitches within 500m
If this project proceeds there will be four soccer pitches within 500m (Two full-sized pitches at Hosken,plus a warm-up / training pitch and a full-sized grass pitch at Richards Reserve). This is a disproportionate allocation of public land, and one that will greatly change the dynamics of use at Hosken Reserve to the detriment of local residents who will be squeezed out.
Indeed more recreation space would be available in Moreland if this community asset was kept as a sustainably watered grass oval useable in warmer months by a range of users. If new synthetic pitches are truly strategic, where is Football Federation Victoria's contribution? Why are Moreland residents subsidising the expansion of its organisation while local, rate-paying residents lose access to their public space?
Not everyone can, or wants to play soccer
The Merlynston community has always been a diverse one and includes many people passionate about sport and soccer. But not everyone plays soccer. Not everyone can, or wants to. Not everyone wants to be around people who are playing soccer. Organised sport is fantastic and benefits many. No one is arguing council should not help local clubs upgrade facilities, within reason. But a much greater proportion of Victorians are not, and never will be, engaged in organised sport. It is as important, if not more important and beneficial to society, to provide enticing spaces accessible to everyone. At the very least, Merlynston's only recreation reserve must continue to adequately serve both those participating in organised sport and its many other local users.
Our community’s love for this open grassy space – as a place to jog, exercise, walk, dog-walk, meet neighbours and play with friends and family - has only grown in recent months with the Covid-19 pandemic stopping many other forms of activity. Ironically, the halting of organised sport has allowed Merlynston’s residents to enjoy this space as never before - and we’ve been making great use of it!
This secret plan to turn Merlynston's Hosken Reserve into an exclusive soccer venue must go back to the drawing board. It's the only right thing to do.
Piecing Together the Changes
How the Plans Have Changed Without Community Consultation
2009: The Masterplan for Hosken Reserve gave three options for the redevelopment / soccer upgrade. In a final report to council in April 2009 council staff elected option 3 as the preferred option.
Option 3 shows the North Western oval (pictured below as #8) to remain as grass but be developed into a soccer field (64m x 110m) with the North-Eastern field (#9) to be extended into a rectangular field (61m x 90 metres) and the grass replaced with synthetic turf.
The DSD10 Hosken Reserve Redevelopment Plan - final report (D09_44637) dated 8 April 2009 states that 'Option 3 is the preferred redevelopment option and includes the reconfiguration of the current cricket / football oval into a rectangular field. All options include the provision of a synthetic training pitch.'
The plan / image for option 3 is available in July 2016 council meeting agenda. But option three was never funded / implemented seemingly.
At the July 2016 council meeting a report states that 'a project scope has been developed and includes (… the construction of one (1) full size 4th generation synthetic soccer pitch… No mention is made of a specific site at Hosken Reserve (but the 2009 Masterplan Report has recommended synthetic be considered for the existing, southern soccer pitch).
Council agenda 13 July 2016 references the adoption of Hosken Reserve Master Plan and includes Option 3 of the Masterplan as ‘Attachment 3’ to DSD17/16 SYNTHETIC SOCCER PITCHES (D16/122904).
Council agenda 9 October 2019, states: having 18 key improvements identified with a total project cost in excess of $2.35 million, including the construction of a full-sized synthetic training pitch and tennis facility upgrades, both of which are identified within the current forward Capital Works Program. (Note the reference suddenly to a full-sized synthetic pitch, when the 2009 Masterplan actually only scoped a smaller synthetic training pitch in the area east of the oval.)
The same agenda references the construction of the stormwater harvest project at Hosken reserve.
Project put out to tender by City of Moreland September 2020
The Tender 2020-128, Part 5 Technical Drawings and Information, Hosken Reserve ‘Rev D’, Pages 6-9 show: technical drawings of a rectangular soccer pitch (68m x 110m) on the site of the current grass North-Western oval plus a warm up area (30m x 20m) to the East taking up part of the existing grass North-Eastern field.
Tender 2020-128, Synthetic Pitch Technical Specifications, page 20, point 5 Specifications state: This contract comprises the execution generally of the following works including supply of all labour and materials as specified for (… a Synthetic Soccer Pitch… ) and Demolition & disposal off-site of miscellaneous elements including, but not limited to (… Stormwater drainage and Pits… ) this last point is not an inconsistency but worth noting.
The grassy oval watered by a $1.5 million storm water harvesting watering system and used by locals as well as the soccer club, will be ripped up and a synthetic soccer pitch (made of plastic grass and tyre crumb) will be installed in its place.