Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sydney's growth problems - Astrolabe Park

Proposed Sporting Developments, Astrolabe Park Daceyville

Update 8 August. Since I wrote this post Sydney Water has stated that it is not part of the consortium, had received no formal proposal from the proponents and had not been invited to the community forum. I have therefore corrected the story. 

From time to time I have written about the problems brought by growth in the area of Sydney in which I presently live. Now those problems have come to roost just two hundred metres from the house.

If you look at Astrolabe Park from the air using Google maps satellite view it seems a small but well located part of a swath of green.  For that reason it was identified by a consortium consisting of  the University of NSW, Cricket NSW and AFL NSW as a possible site for sporting redevelopment. Each party has different interests:

The consortium

Sydney Water own the land. They recently undertook some storm water drainage work and landscaping, with park management resting with Botany Bay and now Bayside Council following recent council mergers. While the details are unclear, it appears that remediation work is required on the site because of previous use as a tip.

When I wrote the post, I listed Sydney Water as a member of the consortium. As outlined above, Sydney Water has now denied this, although the use of the word formal approaches suggests that there may have been some informal discussions. My feeling is, and it's only a feeling, is that Sydney Water might be interested because the other parties in funding the development will have to fund any remediation.

The University of NSW (and here), more correctly now just UNSW since they have re-branded to facilitate global business activities, is the area's largest business by a country mile with over 6,000 staff and 53,000 students across various campuses.

In 2006, UNSW decided that land at Little Bay where its sports fields were located was surplus to requirements and sold the area to developers. developing new facilities on the David Phillips Field next door to Astrolabe Park. This site has now become over-crowded. UNSW has also entered into a deal with NSW Rugby Union whereby that body has shifted its headquarters to David Phillips which will also become the training ground for the Waratahs super rugby side. NSW Rugby is presently accommodated in temporary buildings on the site pending construction of new buildings.

UNSW appears to be the main driver in the proposal, providing project management with the intention of finally managing the whole complex. The proposed redevelopment  of Astrolabe Park will allow cricket and AFL to be accommodated and cement UNSW's role as a sporting powerhouse.

The two sporting bodies involved are Cricket NSW and AFL NSW/ACT. There is some confusion about their role here that I have not been able to clarify. One story is that the new facilities will become the training ground for the Sydney Sixers (cricket) and Sydney Swans (AFL) plus some admin. However, the lassie I talked to from Cricket NSW suggested that the cricket focus would be on community cricket where there is an acute shortage of grounds. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Both codes face development pressures and are affected by the redevelopment of the Moore Park sports complex.

Outline of the development 

A map of the proposed development is at the top. It is substantial, involving:
  • demolition of the current toilet/park maintenance block
  • the development of  AFL and cricket ovals, each with their own pavillion
  • construction of a large admin/indoor training/rehab/cafe facilities.block
  • new outdoor cricket nets
  • a playground area
  • additional parking both road and on-site.   

Not unexpectedly, the proposal has created a degree of outrage in the local community. This began with dog owners in Daceyville and beyond concerned about the loss of one of the remaining few leash free areas, but quickly spread. In the last three weeks I have met more local residents than in the preceding three years. There is a certain irony here because I will be leaving the area later this year.

It would be easy to conclude that this is another NIMBY (not in my backyard) protest  Discussions with people outside the area makes this clear. There is, some suggest, something selfish about local opposition at a time when Sydney is in desperate need of new sporting facilities. By implication, local residents should take a hit for the good of the whole. It's not quite as clear-cut as this.

Everybody agrees that the Park could be better developed. It has had a checkered history. Built on an old rubbish dump, it was a very popular place that many locals remember from their childhood. Then the land subsided forcing closure of facilities. The Park became something of a no go zone.Writing in January 2015, Postcard Sydney described the Park in this way:
Walking around the hilly, windblown expanse of Astrolabe Park you can’t help but feel like you’re walking through a horror film. This place is scary. It feels too big for it’s size. It doesn’t help that there are fences along one side where the golf course meets the car park, or the prominent feature is two giant flood lights rising out of the ground like something out of war of the worlds....... 
For such a large area there seems to be a dearth of facilities at Astrolabe Park. You might find the lone basketball half court tucked away behind the creepy looking brick maintenance shed. Further afield there’s a couple of woefully inadequate bench seats in ditch and the aforementioned flood lights.
Recent drainage and landscape work has opened it up again to recreational use, but it remains lacking in facilities. One of the difficulties facing residents and indeed probably the development's proponents is that nobody seems to know just what development can be carried out without expensive remediation work. However, simple development carried out including benches, BBQs, tree planting and playgrounds is likely to require minimal remediation. Still, we don't actually know.

There is pressure on existing community sports facilities across Sydney. However. the apparent desire of UNSW and the sporting bodies to effectively make Daceyville a sports complex catering to big as opposed to community sport raises different issues. There is a fair degree of local resentment at what many see as a land grab triggered by developments elsewhere. More importantly, there is a conflict between what we might think of as passive as opposed to sporting space.

I have described in past posts the way the area surrounding Daceyville has become subject to high and medium density development progressively adding large numbers of people. All these developments feature nearby parks and green space as sale points.This growth is adding to pressure on sports fields, but these people also want more passive space in which they can relax, play with the kids and indeed walk the dog. . Astrolabe Park is the last  large passive area left.within walking. cycling or easy driving distance.

Daceyville residents vote against the development proposal. 
Beyond these issues, access is a huge problem. This applies to passive recreation too, but is more acute with the proposed development. Daceyville is a little triangle between two main roads with its top at the junction.

Access to Astrolabe Park is via the biggest drag, Gardners Road. Three roads provide access to the Park, two of one block, the third longer.

As presently configured, east bound traffic has access to one road, the narrowest. With cars parked both sides, traffic is reduce to a single car passage. Westbound traffic has two limited options. This creates problems with both access and parking, problems that are likely to be acute if you have both AFL and cricket matches on, worse if you have a significant rugby carnival on at the Dave Phillips field such as the State rugby schools championship. .

I think that this is likely to be a big problem for the proponents as well as the residents. Let me try to give some scale indications.

Yesterday I went to see my old school play St Joseph's College at Hunters Hill. With existing resident parking, the combination of buses and cars occupied an area greater than Daceyville. I got there early. By the time I left, the cars were circling looking for a parking spot for the later games.

A few weeks back I went down the road to watch the state under 16 school rugby trial at the David Phillips Field. All the nearby available car spots in Astrolabe Park were occupied with some spill-over into Astrolabe Road. Yesterday, I went down to watch Clare play hockey. Parking here is generally on the other side of the David Phillips field, but it often spills into Astrolabe Road. Now add to this cricket and AFL.

It should be clear that I am not opposed to sport nor sport in my immediate neighbourhood. My problem is that I cannot see how access and parking will be handled if you add in two more codes.

Decision Processes

Part of the resident frustration lies in lack of clarity in decision processes, with the proposal coming from left field.

The land is owned by Sydney Water, a State Owned Enterprise. Bayside Council manages the park, bearing maintenance costs. The consortium came to Bayside with the proposal. This placed Bayside in a difficult position. If they knocked it back, the consortium could simply bypass Council and go direct to Sydney Water and the NSW Government. Bayside took the view, correctly to my mind, that they should put the matter out for public consultation before reaching any conclusion.

At the community information session, the proponents emphasised that the project was still at the concept stage, that the detailed work had still to be done. I think that's right, but the proposal has still gone a fair bit down track. I think Council will likely knock it back given the issues involved, but I don't know. In that event, the proponents will have to decide whether or not to bypass Council and go to the State Government. In all, there is some way to go.

Update 30 August 2018

I was advised today that the consortium has withdrawn its proposal because of community opposition.


Anonymous said...

'the lassie' ?????? Oh dear, JDB, you sexist old grumph!! I suggest that any 'lassie' worth her salt would, either metaphorically or literally, box your ears at hearing herself thus referenced. Would you refer to your girls thus? I hope you never 'lassie' me.
Yours in linguistic horror,

Jim Belshaw said...

I missed this comment, Kate. Remember I'm part Scottish. She was a nice young woman, probably about Clare's age. It's still a popular word in North England and especially Scotland.

Anonymous said...

HI Jim, great blog.
Unfortunately, the consortium is back... :(

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Anon. Thank you. So I understand, although I am not sure on the details. There is a meeting next Wednesday on the issue, but I will be away.