Concerns grow over Moreland’s synthetic push

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Do you enjoy exercising, dog walking and playing at your local oval or recreation reserve? Do you rely on these green spaces for your physical and mental health? Well unless you’re paying a sports organisation to kick a ball, Moreland Council doesn't think you need access.

Several councillors have supported a plan to turn a sustainably-watered Coburg North reserve into synthetic pitches to please Moreland’s powerful soccer fraternity and more synthetic could be on the cards.

Moreland already has one of the lowest amounts of green open space per person for a municipality of its type and with the population growing, should it really convert its multi-purpose grass fields into synthetic pitches to benefit one sport? The influential Football Federation Victoria's goal is to find 16 extra full size soccer pitches in Moreland by 2026, but says 8 synthetic pitches would be just as good ...

Synthetic pitches don't fit into Moreland's environmental strategies and are horribly hot in summer. They increase hours for fee-paying sport, but do so at the expense of other, more common forms of healthy activity such as walking, jogging, informal play and dog-walking (dogs are permitted off-leash on many of Moreland's grass sport fields but are one of many things not permitted on its synthetic pitches).

AFL is growing faster in Moreland

In November City of Moreland was busted over its secret plan to convert Hosken Reserve’s north oval into a 70-hour per week synthetic soccer pitch and synthetic warm-up pitch even though:

● The council had never consulted the hundreds of households who love and use the grassy space / off-leash dog park when it's not used for soccer training

● Local residents were already locked out of the southern half of Hosken Reserve so Pascoe Vale FC could have a dedicated ‘Grade A’ soccer pitch for senior soccer / NPL

● Council had spent $1.5m on a stormwater harvest for watering the north oval in 2016

● Local residents, bordered by the industrial precinct, Fawkner Cemetery, the train line / Sydney Road do not have safe, walkable access to a similar large green space

When the story was covered in The Age the Victorian Government dropped its funding commitment, confirming there had been no local community support or consultation for the plan, but has not ruled out another grant. The state government's World Game Facilities Fund effectively encourages clubs and councils to convert grass spaces to synthetic as it only funds "new" infrastructure, including new field surfaces.

Moreland has since claimed its decision to switch the proposed location of its third synthetic soccer pitch from Hosken South to Hosken North was contained in a report attached to the April 2018 council meeting agenda (below). We've now learned the same report recommended grass fields at Parker Reserve (Coburg North) and at Coburg High School be converted to synthetic soccer (or multi-sport) pitches.

Will Moreland get a synthetic consultation? In December 2020 Moreland council promised to go back to the drawing board and conduct a ‘’robust’’ and independent consultation process to ensure future plans and developments at Hosken Reserve would meet council's open space commitments to local residents, and not just sports clubs. But at the same meeting several councillors (Mayor Annalivia Carli Hannan, Cr Helen Davidson, Cr, Lambros Tapinos, Cr Helen Pavlidis* and Cr E-Halabi) voted down an amendment to receive a thorough, updated report on the pros and cons of installing synthetic pitches in Moreland and a demographic analysis of the neighbourhood surrounding Hosken Reserve to help inform their future decision-making.**

Council has finally begun a community consultation about the future of Hosken Reserve however local residents have many concerns about the process:

● The main component, an online survey, asks whether people support or oppose “community access to the North soccer pitch outside club training and matches for casual play”. (Are they considering removing even this?) ● The survey asks people whether they support or oppose this new soccer pitch being synthetic or grass but the survey does not record the names or addresses of respondents - so anyone, from anywhere, can fill it in multiple times - meaning it may not capture the true impact on local residents of a loss of access to this large, multi-purpose grass recreation space

● Once the first stage of engagement wraps up the consultants appointed by council to run the engagement will select 20-25 people (a mix of residents, reserve users and ‘subject matter experts’) to finesse design options before a single draft plan is made public. Local residents are concerned this process lacks transparency as the consultants refuse to guarantee they will make the names of all those chosen for the panel public, confirming only ‘limited participant details (i.e. name and group representing) may be published as part of Council’s reporting’ to provide that transparency component.

Help stop the plastic plan

With several current councillors having previously supported the plan put to tender in September 2020 to turn Hosken’s north field into a synthetic soccer space and continuing to speak in its favour, we’re appealing for support from the broader Moreland community. Less than 10 per cent of Moreland residents participate in club sport and only a very small percentage play (often expensive) club soccer. AFL participation is growing faster, so why the push to expand dedicated and elite soccer facilities in Moreland to use for more months of the year? If you value and use Moreland’s grass ovals and sports fields, please let your local coucillors know, particularly the below councillors:

Cr Annalivia Carli Hannan (Mayor) (who has made it clear she believes Moreland’s sport and recreation fields are for club sport) Cr Lambros Tapinos

Cr Helen Davidson

Cr Oscar Yildiz Cr Helen Pavlidis *

Cr Milad El-Halabi

* While North-East ward’s new Cr Helen Pavlidis promised to vote for consultation about installing synthetic at Hosken Reserve North in December, she voted against an amendment to strengthen the current consultation process to include a review of the pros and cons of synthetic sports pitches in Moreland ** Cr Oscar Yildiz was late to the December 2020 meeting / did not cast a vote on the Hosken Reserve amendment, which was voted down on the casting vote of the Mayor. Cr Yildiz has expressed very strong support / a commitment to a synthetic pitch for Pascoe Vale FC.

Figure 2 - Proposed synthetic pitch that went to tender despite no community consultation.

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