Council responds to community fears about Kooloobong Ovals upgrade

Kooloobong Oval: The University of Wollongong has proposed a $3.2 million "high intensity" makeover for the football fields, which many residents fear will have social and environmental consequences.
Kooloobong Oval: The University of Wollongong has proposed a $3.2 million "high intensity" makeover for the football fields, which many residents fear will have social and environmental consequences.

Wollongong council staff have moved to dispel some of the fears raised by residents opposed to a synthetic football pitch being built at Keiraville’s Kooloobong Ovals.

The football field upgrade – worth about $3.2 million – is part of a $7 million public works plan from the University of Wollongong, which would exempt it from paying development taxes to the council for the next 10 years. 

Other works include $100,000 in funding towards the Botanic Garden master plan and $500,000 for footpath projects in Keiraville.

The proposal – called a voluntary planning agreement – is now back open for comment, after councillors voted to put it on exhibition a second time to allow staff to address issues raised the first time round.

The last time the council asked for feedback on the fee waiver deal, there were 55 community submissions lodged with the majority in opposition to the Kooloobong plan.

Some objectors worried the synthetic material and water run-off would be detrimental to the rainforest and the vulnerable species of Powerful Owl in the neighbouring botanic gardens, and that it could be hazardous to human health due to overheating and water run off.

However, in a new response, the council said numerous studies into both the effects of runoff from fields and the impact on players using the fields, which have found “no evidence to date that contaminated leaching is occurring or player safety is compromised”. 

In opposing the plans, the Friends of the Botanic Garden group believed the proposal would be contrary to the wording of the “deed of gift” between the original owners, the Hoskins family, and the council.

However, the council said this wording – from 1951 – was superseded when the land was allowed to be sold for use by the Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls in 1954.

“It is impossible to see how, in law or fact, the 1951 intent of the Hoskins to preserve land, including the subject site, for a public park or botanical gardens can be sustained where they expressly sought in 1954 to have it transferred to a school for school uses,” the council said.

The botanic gardens volunteers also said the proposal was contradiction with the current and draft Plan of Management for the Botanic Garden, however this was again refuted by council staff.

They said the soon-to-be-unveiled draft Botanic Garden master plan for the next 20 years has included the ovals’ ongoing use as a sports field. 

The updated agreement – and the council’s responses – will be open for public comment until August 6.