Lack of consultation on synthetic turf at Hosken Reserve Oval has North Coburg residents crying foul

Residents in North Coburg are crying foul at Moreland Council, as a well loved and used football oval is threatened to become a fenced synthetic field of plastic grass. All without any transparency or public consultation and engagement by Moreland Council with local residents.

This is occurring in the suburb of Merlynston in Coburg North, with the Pascoe Vale Football Club liasing with Moreland Council officers to effectively privatise over 60 per cent of Hosken Reserve with plans to turn the main oval into a fenced synthetic pitch, as well as the South Hosken Reserve pitch already fenced for the exclusive use of the Pascoe Vale Football Club, into a hybrid pitch.

Residents claim there has been no consultation and engagement for over 10 years on any plans to install synthetic or hybrid pitchs at Hosken Reserve.

This clearly breaches Moreland Council’s own policies and guidelines on public engagement and consultation.

It seems while Sporting clubs were actively kept in the loop over the last 10 years, the local residents were never informed or invited to contribute to the Hosken Reserve Masterplan.

A petition to Keep Hosken Reserve (Coburg North) accessible for all has garnered over 2,500 signatures.

The takeover of Open Space at Hosken Reserve

Rough estimate of area occupied by PVFC and Merlynston Tennis Club after this development

Hosken Reserve is about 50,000 square metres. Two Car parks occupy about 5 per cent of that space. Pascoe Vale Football Club pavillion and fenced off pitch plus the Merlynston Tennis Club and four courts occupy just over 18,000 square metres or 36 per cent of the reserve.

The open space, stormwater wetlands area, playground area, picnic areas, and open playing fields including the main oval occupy about 29,000 square metres.

If the current synthetic pitch and warmup area is built and fenced off, the buldings and fenced off space will amount to over 30,000 square metres or 61 percent, leaving the informal recreation space, stormwater irrigation wetland area, playground and all paths about 17,000 square metres, or 34 per cent of the Hosken Reserve area. Informal recreational use, including dog walking will have effectively been pushed to the margins.

Local residents have been happy to share Hosken Reserve with the Football club to date. Pascoe Vale Football Club have had a fenced pitch at Hosken South, and shared the facilities of the main oval and the east training pitch, using these fields for football games and training.

But the oval is also a popular place for more informal recreation, including kite flying, picnics and for off-lead dog walking. There are few other open space parks in the surrounding residential area.

Some residents have brought their children, and now grandchildren to play, to learn to ride a bike, bring along their pet dogs, and enjoy the open space of the oval.

Medium density residential development is likely between Hosken Reserve and the Upfield railway line in the not too distant future making this shared open space even more valuable for informal recreation.

First notice Open Space would be lost

The first inkling that local residents heard they were about to lose their much loved oval was a Facebook post by local State MP for Pascoe Vale, Lizzie Blandthorn, announcing state givernment funding for the synthetic pitch on 28 August.

The Mayor Cr Lambros Tapinos said in a Moreland Council media release on 17 September saying:

“Having quality open space and sporting facilities enhances the liveability of our city as we welcome more residents to Moreland,” said Cr Tapinos.

“Well designed and accessible sporting facilities also encourage our community to stay active, healthy and connected.”

Council staff authorised the release of a tender for construction on 19 September 2020, just 3 days prior to the election period (caretaker period) starting on 22 September.

It wasn’t until residents accessed the council tender documents they realised it wasn’t just the south oval being upgraded, which Pascoe Vale Football Club have sole use of, but the whole oval was being taken over. Word among local residents started spreading on September 23 of the takeover of the oval.

Even before the tender was released on 19 September, Pascoe Vale Football club had published a Facebook post on 30 August an extract of the plan saying; “Whilst in lockdown Moreland City Council have been working extremely hard to deliver. Here is a sneak peek of the synthetic pitch to be installed by 2021 at Hosken Reserve.”

Cr Helen Davidson commented on this post “It’s a wonderful effort from the club. A lot of work went into getting this. Congratulations!”

Clear collusion between Moreland Council and Pascoe Vale Football Club while local residents were kept in the dark.

Failed Transparency – Master Plan never made publicly available

Many residents wondered why Council had never consulted with them in over 10 years with various plans occasionally being mentioned in Council agenda documents, but never any engagement or consultation with residents.

There was even an item in the Moreland Council agenda on 9 October 2019 about the lack of transparency in tracking Reserve Masterplans, including the Hosken Reserve Redevelopment Plan.

In recent weeks Residents have tried to find the Hosken Reserve Masterplan, but it appears it has never been formerly uploaded to the Council website. The only version publicly available is buried as an attachment to a Moreland Council agenda item in 2016, and this design isn’t the current design being proposed as per tender documents.

Moreland Council Failure to engage and consult with community

Moreland Council CEO Cathy Henderson makes clear this was a failure in engagement and consultation in a letter on Hosken Reserve sent out in early October to all Councillors and Council Candidates:

“The Hosken Reserve project has been in the forward capital works plan and approved by Council for years. As part of the budget, the forward capital works plan is formally subject to public consultation every year. The Sport and Active Recreation Strategy was also subject to public consultation in 2019.

“However, residents near Hosken Park would not have been aware of the proposed synthetic pitch unless they participated in the 2009 consultation process, or unless they checked recent consultation documents in detail.
“The Hosken Reserve Redevelopment Plan or details about the synthetic pitch project are not available on the Moreland Council website, which is unfortunate.  

“In my view, it would have been preferable that recent consultation occurred with local residents about changes planned for Hosken Reserve (north). Council’s Community and Engagement and Public Participation Policy (PDF) would suggest that such consultation should have occurred. I acknowledge the frustration and disappointment felt by local residents.

“I also acknowledge that as a project under the Sport and Active Recreation Strategy, there has been ongoing engagement with the Pascoe Vale Football Club about the Hosken Reserve project.

Council plans reduce off-lead dog exercising

Current plans as leaked to the Paascoe Vale Football club (30 August) show a fenced synthetic pitch occupying all of the oval and east training area that will sharply cut back the amount of free dog walking space at Hosken Reserve in a high density area with few other parks for exercising dogs.

Moreland CEO Cathy Henderson said in her letter on Hosken Park “that public access to the synthetic pitch will be retained (outside of formal games and training). Hosken Reserve will continue to be a designated dog off leash park.”

She failed to mention dogs will not be allowed on the synthetic turf, just in the small areas remaining in the reserve (which includes the wetlands area and children’s playground area where dogs are also not allowed).

Consultation failure from 2009 onwards

During 2007-2009 there was a survey of local residents (177) prior to drawing up the Hosken Reserve Redeveloment Plan. Councillors then voted on three design options for the development of Hosken Reserve on 8 April 2009.

“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. Option 1 retains the existing oval / pitch configuration, Option 2 would allow the expansion of the rectangular pitch into a full sized training pitch whilst retaining the turf wicket, whilst Option 3 seeks to remove the turf cricket wicket from the reserve to allow the construction of 1 full sized pitch and a synthetic training pitch.” explains the Council Officer report.

“It is therfore proposed, that Council publicly exhibit option 3 as the preferred redevelopment option for Hosken Reserve, seek community feedback and input into the proposed redevelopment plan and liase with the Australian International Academy, State Government and local sporting clubs to determine the feasibility of future redevelopment opportunities”.

Feedback on the development and changes to the overall Hosken Master Plan has never been sought from one section of the community – the local residents, arising from this motion.

The Masterplan for Hosken Reserve appears to have continued to change and be modified over the last decade, all without any local resident opportunity for input.

Only small sections of development work have gone out for consultation for local resident input, such as the stormwater harvesting upgrade consultation in 2015, consultation on the playground upgrade in October 2018.

Until there is open and transparent consultation and engagement with all stakeholders including local residents, any works associated with the Hosken Reserve Plan should not move forward. The Hosken Reserve Masterplan needs to be re-opened for full and open public consultation and possible modification based upon consideration of local residents as a major stakeholder group.

The lack of resident consultation by Moreland Council has also contributed to some sour relations developing between local residents and the Pascoe Vale Football club.

The football club were looking forward to great new facilities and are angry that these are now in doubt.

In early 2019 Pascoe Vale FC chairman Lou Tona and Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster drew attention to the human rights campaign to release Bahraini refugee footballer Hakeem Aloraibi, detained while in transit in Thailand and facing extradition to Bahrain and likely torture. Many people in the wider Moreland community strongly supported the Football club role in championing human rights to Save Hakeem.

Much goodwill has been undermined in the local community by Moreland Council’s lack of transparency and consultation on Hosken Reserve development. Due to the council’s failures, this is now a contentious issue, so conversations need to be moderated carefully by Moreland Council.

This is what comes from poor engagement management and lack of consultation by Council and not following their own policies, driving divisions in the community.

State Government Grant suspended pending review

Community Sport Minister Ros Spence has now decided to launch an immediate review of Moreland City Council’s application under the World Game Facilities Fund.

Council has committed $900,000 to the project as part of the Sport and Active Recreation Strategy 2019. Pascoe Vale Football Club is contributing $50,000. The project is also dependant on a $500,000 grant secured through the Victorian Government’s World Game Facilities Fund, which has now been with-held pending the review.

“I have instructed my department, Sport and Recreation Victoria, to conduct an immediate review into Moreland City Council’s funding application at Hosken Reserve and report back to me by the end of the month,” Ms Spence said in a statement.

“As a result, the $500,000 in funding will be withheld pending the findings of the review.”

Part of the assessment criteria for the State Government grant that Moreland Council applied for in March was to “detail the consultation process undertaken with the community and project stakeholders, and its outcomes, to demonstrate support for the project and proposed outcomes”.

Council Election

Tenders were advertised for the redevelopment work, including installation of the synthetic pitches, just two days prior to the caretaker period for the Moreland Council election.

The new Councillors will get an opportunity to consider the tender, probably at the Council meeting in December.

Local action group Keep Hosken Reserve accessible for all have asked all Moreland Council candidates to sign a pledge to defer any tender approval or redevelopment work on the Reserve and call for a full report from Council officers on what consultation and engagement has ocurred since the start of the Hosken Reserve Redevelopment Plan.

Hosken Reserve Pledge

The new Councillors need to be fully informed to determine the future of Hosken Reserve in a transparent and accountable manor to all stakeholders, including the ratepayers and local residents.

Update 13 October: Oval irrigation to be ripped up

Council Officers have confirmed in tender communication on 13 October that:

“The irrigation within the proposed field is to be removed including all related infrastructure, ie sprinkler heads, mainlines and electrical components. All working unused sprinkler heads are to be returned to Council.”

“Scope of irrigation works, is to re-configure the remove the existing irrigation system within the proposed field and provide suitable sprinklers to irrigate the open turfed areas around the field.”

Stormwater harvesting to supply irrigation to the Hosken Reserve oval was done during 2015-2017 with public consultation and engagement. But now the irrigation system is set to be ripped up. Why isn’t there consultation on demolition of water infrastructure as well? Why are local residents being kept in the dark on the Hosken Reserve Masterplan?

References:
The Age – Rachel Eddie, October 9, 2020 – State government reviews sports grant to astroturf Coburg North oval
The Age – Rachel Eddie, October 6, 2020 – Coburg North residents blindsided by plans to cover oval in artificial turf


Most residents have only recently seen these images. The first is the Hosken Reserve Masterplan Option 3 from 2016 buried as an attachment in a Council agenda item. Note the plans have changed since this version. The second is an image circulated by Pascoe Vale Football Club on social media on 30 August 2020, which comes from the tender document, before it’s public release on 19 September 2020.

Hosken Masterplan – option 3 (July 2016)

30 August 2020 – Pascoe Vale Soccer Club – “Whilst in lockdown Moreland City Council have been working extremely hard to deliver. Here is a sneak peek of the synthetic pitch to be installed by 2021 at Hosken Reserve.

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