The University of Wollongong is proposing to spend more than $3 million to develop the Illawarra’s second synthetic football pitch, and another $4 million on public works around Keiraville and Gwynneville.
In return, in a deal put to Wollongong City Council, the institution wants a 20 year lease over the Kooloobong sportsfields – and a waiver on any development fees for all on-campus construction in the next decade.
Councillors debated UOW’s proposed $7 million Voluntary Planning Agreement this week, agreeing to put the 10 year works plan out for public comment.
In the $3.26 million oval upgrade, the university would deliver a competition standard pitch akin to the facility which is due to be built at Kembla Grange.
As well as the football field upgrade – due to happen in 2019/20 – the proposed works include footpath work, tree planting and a sculpture on Northfields Avenue, as well as drainage work on Robsons Road and the installation of underground powerlines.
These would be rolled out by the university between 2019 and 2026, allowing it to implement its campus master plan without paying contributions to the council.
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Developer fees – applied to most developers at a rate of one per cent of construction value and used by the council to offset the cost of public facilities – have been a point of contention between the council and university over the past two years.
In the past, the university has been exempt as it is considered an educational facility with a public benefit. However, when the university lodged its application to build an IGA supermarket last year, the council argued this was commercial development and should not be exempt.
The council then changed its policy, so that the waiver did not automatically apply to tertiary education providers.
At the meeting about the $7 million deal, community advocate Bess Moylan asked councillors to carefully consider the university’s deal, saying the proposal was “vague in detail, leaving open opportunities for misunderstandings and assumptions”.
“The items have not been raised by the community, they’re not in the council’s current works programs,” she said.
“The community has asked for bike paths, yet none of the items in this voluntary planning agreement mention bike paths. Some might suggest [these works] are of more benefit to the university than the community.”
She also noted the council was in the process of developing various plans and strategies for the Botanic Gardens, Keiraville/Gwynneville and Beaton Park. These plans would result in a number of public works projects, which would require funding, Ms Moylan said.
“Talk to the community about these items,” she said. “Don’t be blinded by the money the university is providing because it might come at a hidden cost.”
UOW’s Chief Finance Officer Damien Israel also spoke, telling councillors the deal was intended as a partnership between the university and council designed to activate the Northfield’s Avenue precinct.
He said the university sought to contribute to the council’s challenges in providing improved sporting facilities for a growing population, by funding the upgrade to Kooloobong Ovals.
“In return for entering into a long-term licencing agreement, the university wishes to commit over $3 million in funding for the major upgrade of those sportsgrounds,” he said.
“This will continue the model of shared community and university usage.”
He said that the university hoped it would be able to attract more visiting sports teams to Wollongong, creating “economic and promotional benefits” for the city.
“These voluntary planning agreement commitments should make a significant contribution to enhancing council-owned assets,” he said.
“We believe the total package of forward investment by the university and council represents a good outcome for both the local Keiraville and Gwynneville community, as well as the wider Wollongong community.”
He thanked “senior staff” from the council for their assistance in the deal.