Wollongong City councillors have voted to finalise a decade-long agreement with the University of Wollongong (UOW), which will see a controversial synthetic football pitch built at Keiraville’s Kooloobong Oval.
The synthetic pitch – worth about $3.2 million – is part of a $7 million UOW public works plan, which would exempt the university from paying development taxes to the council for the next 10 years.
Other works include $100,000 in funding towards the Botanic Garden masterplan and $500,000 for footpath projects in Keiraville.
The voluntary planning agreement (VPA) was put on public display earlier this year and generated 56 submissions.
As a result of the feedback, the plan was revised and put back on exhibition; generating a further 120 submissions.
At Monday night’s meeting, councillors were asked to finalise the VPA. It will require UOW to undertake public domain works in Keiraville over the next 10 years, in lieu of paying development contributions.
During the debate, Labor councillor David Brown described the agreement as “a bit of a mixed salad”.
“I find some of the objections unconvincing, I find some of the VPA elements unappetising – a bit of a mixed salad this one,” Cr Brown said.
“Sadly, much of this debate’s boiling down to supporters of the botanic garden versus supporters of soccer ... I think that's unfortunate.
“We've presently got an award-winning botanic gardens there and some fine soccer fields. If this VPA is approved, we’ll have the botanic gardens still there and the soccer fields there, albeit the latter with a different surface.”
Cr Mithra Cox, from the Greens, agreed somewhat with Cr Brown and also expressed her disappointment at the ‘soccer versus botanic gardens’ aspect of the debate.
Cr Cox suggested removing Kooloobong Oval from the VPA.
“If we take out that one element, I think we take out the controversy in this proposal and we suddenly mean that it has consensus and that we can move forward, as long as we do find places for those kids to play [soccer]” she said.
Lord mayor Gordon Bradbery refused to support Cr Cox’s suggested change.
“It's a soccer pitch and will continue as a soccer pitch whether we put synthetic turf on it or I go up there personally with a packet of seeds and grow grass,” he said.
The potential for further delays and the contractual nature of the agreement ultimately meant Cr Cox’s suggestion failed to gain traction.
The majority of councillors backed the VPA being finalised in its current form. Councillors Cox, Vicky King, Chris Connor and Cath Blakey voted against the move.
Objectors of the proposal had raised concerns about the pitch’s synthetic material and water run-off being detrimental to the rainforest and the vulnerable species of Powerful Owl in the neighbouring botanic gardens.
“The furphies that I've heard tonight, the classic is that it's going to poison the botanic gardens and all the trees and plants are going to wither,” Cr Bradbery said.
“Now let's make it very clear the observation that it will affect the rainforest area does not have credence.”