The fierce battle over Hosken Reserve in Coburg North over the past 12 months has highlighted that some sectors of the community have more say over open space than others. This Wednesday night council appears set to ignore the wishes of residents of the surrounding community of Merynston, and use the results of a questionable survey to design local residents out of Hosken Reserve. A petition started this month by residents requesting changes to council's proposed new masterplan has attracted over 500 signatures from Moreland residents concerned the plan does not uphold the council's promise to deliver a reserve that is welcoming, accessible and inclusive for all members of the community, regardless of their age and ability, at all times of the week. Moreland's proposed plan which goes to a councillor vote this Wednesday October 13th (link to council meeting agenda - Hosken item 7.1) converts 80% of the 5.5ha reserve to soccer pitches, leaving local residents with 25m x 100m of open space to use on weekday afternoons and evenings and on weekends - when the tenant soccer club has allocation.
The 25m wide 'community space' will be wedged between two new soccer pitches (a senior pitch and a smaller training and junior pitch) meaning Hosken Reserve will cease to function as a council designated off-lead dog park at key times of the week, with owners required to keep dogs leashed when within 15m of organised sport activity. To add insult to injury, despite Football Victoria claiming the north field pitch is needed 'to accommodate growth among women’s and girls’ football' council staff overruled the wishes of local residents to make the new pitch on the north oval a large 'NPL-preferred' pitch (105m x 68m) to make Hosken's existing southern premier pitch and the new north pitch "attractive for staging National Premier League double headers". None of Moreland's soccer clubs currently have girls or women's NPL teams and Merlynston residents have shown council that a 105m x 68m pitch would not actully accommodate more training or games than a 96m x 63m pitch (which also meets NPL requirements).
The new plan also adds a player's race to the north pitch to be used on game days, plus a tiered grandstand to the locked southern pitch, likely to seat up to 300 paying spectators. Council has conducted no traffic or noise studies to assess the impact of creating a soccer facility of this type in a residential neighbourhood.
The petition to councillors requests changes that will mitigate some of these concerns, with Merlynston residents and ratepayers being asked to shoulder too much of Moreland's NPL burden. Moreland has 4 NPL clubs fielding teenage boy and semi-professional mens' teams, with Football Victoria demanding these teams train and play more often and have access to better facilities than community-grade Victorian soccer teams.
Tensions erupted between the tenant club Pascoe Vale FC, Moreland and residents of Merlynston last September when it emerged council was planning a large synthetic soccer pitch to accommodate 70 hours soccer per week on the reserve's northern oval - a designated off-leash dog park. Council had consulted local sports clubs and an adjacent private school on the plan, but not local residents. Some Moreland councillors and the CEO initially insisted consultation had occurred, but the state government found otherwise and withdrew a $500,000 grant. Council has since allowed Pascoe Vale FC to install and monitor CCTV cameras that face over shared community spaces at Hosken Reserve, and has exempted the club from usual rules that disallow sports clubs from installing large, outward-facing sponsorship signage for many months.
In December 2020 Moreland City Council promised to conduct a robust masterplan consultation to assess the needs of both soccer clubs and local residents. In all three stages of consultation Merlynston's residents voiced their dependence on Hosken Reserve for health and wellbeing activities such as walking, meeting neighbours, gathering with friends and playing informal sports.
However council is using the results of its Stage 3 online survey seeking feedback to a draft plan made public in July to claim a mandate for the plan. It appears at least half (possibly much more) of respondents do not live in Moreland.
The August survey only asked respondents to give their postcode, and did not require people to explain their interest or connection to Hosken Reserve. Only those who were dissatisfied with the plan were asked to explain why. (Note: 'resident' indicates anyone living in the municipality of Moreland, rather than people living close to Hosken Reserve.)
It appears Moreland soccer clubs that chose to share appeals such as this one instructing players and family members ("even siblings") how to fill in the survey to support "community" soccer facilities may have had success in encouraging mass responses approving the draft plan's new soccer pitches and NPL facilities.
The private school adjacent to Hosken Reserve, which made a joint submission with Pascoe Vale FC and Merlynston Tennis club for sports upgrades, also appears to have featured strongly in survey responses according to the independent consultant's report attached to the October council agenda. This table shows where survey participants came from (excluding respondents from regional areas, which are not shown). Local residents, who could not compete with this show of force, have also been disturbed that Moreland City Council appears more concerned with accommodating the high facility demands of Football Victoria's elite NPL competition, than it does with meeting the open space needs of the majority of its residents (over 90%) who do not participate in physical activity through organised sports clubs. The growth in soccer participation in Moreland pales against Moreland's general population growth.
Football Victoria has shown a strong interest in the Hosken Reserve masterplan consultation. The CEO wrote to the presidents of all of Moreland's soccer clubs (including the Mayor's father, president of Brunswick Zebras Juventus) earlier this year appealing to them to engage their clubs in the process. Most of Moreland's soccer clubs have since made submissions. Soccer's governing body also had a strong executive presence at a Sunday morning consultation session at Hosken Reserve, with CEO Kimon Taliadoros, president Antonella Care and Commercial head Anthony Grima among FV representatives mixing with council staff and local soccer club committee members.
The outcome at Hosken Reserve could be a worrying sign for informal users of other recreation reserves in Moreland and other sport codes. Unlike community soccer pitches, NPL pitches cannot have cricket wickets - and Football Victoria is adding more small-sided formats to extend the soccer playing season into warmer months. Football Victoria's current football facility strategy expresses a wish for many more soccer pitches in the municipality by 2026.
The situation at Hosken Reserve might best be summed up by the fact council's reports on Hosken Reserve have failed to detail its plans to rezone a large 1.74ha industrial site right next to Hosken Reserve to residential and mixed use to accommodate hundreds of new residents. It is doubtful Merlynston's current and future residents will be happy with a 25m x 100m strip of grass between Hosken's new soccer pitches for their recreation needs after work and school, and on weekends. So councillors, it's up to you to assess whether the allocation of space in the proposed new masterplan fairly balances the needs of those who will be most impacted. Petition: https://me.getup.org.au/petitions/keep-moreland-s-reserves-accessible-for-all