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Oval debate goes one more round - 15.07.2005

Jane Shields in Southside News Issue 3/2005 Page 31 reports.

The inner city suburbs of Redfern-Waterloo have less open space per person than anywhere else in the city. Within the next decade it is estimated that 25,000 extra people will move into the already congested neighbourhood.


Occupying approximately 48,000 square metres between Elizabeth, Chalmers, Redfern and Phillip streets, Redfern Oval and Park, are at the centre of a debate about what South Sydney needs the most - open space or a major sports stadium.


Locals who support converting the oval into a public sports field are angry that a decision on its future use has just been postponed


They fear that Sydney Council looking again at a proposal to build a major sports stadium on the site, so the South Sydney leagues club team, the Rabbitohs can come "home".


That fear deepened at the end of June when it was reported officials from the Rabbitohs had met with the executive of Sydney City Council.


The Rabbitohs want a 12,000-seat boutique stadium at Redfern, built by the time the club's three-year contract to play games at Telstra Stadium from 2006 ends.


The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the club's current optimism that it would get its stadium was based on Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore's deferral of plans to pull down the antiquated Redfern Oval stands.


On top of this the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), has imposed a "red and green" ban on Redfern Oval stopping any demolition work


Commenting on the Rabbitohs meeting the Lord Mayor said the talks were "positive but hypothetical".


"Nothing is fait accompli until it goes before a full meeting of council," she told the Herald.


For a while it looked as if a decision was imminent.


At its May meeting the council's environment and heritage committee seemed poised to support a proposal that would see the oval converted to open space.


But then the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) put forward a proposal and the CFMEU imposed the red and green ban.


The ILC, an independent body funding indigenous purchase and management of land wants the oval site used for the creation of a centre of cultural and sporting excellence for Sydney's indigenous population.


To complicate things even more the ILC say its officials have held discussions with the Redfern-Waterloo Authority about possible involvement in redevelopment of the oval. Redfern Oval lies within the boundary of the new planning authority, but remains community land under the jurisdiction of City of Sydney Council. But the RWA may now become the planning consent body.


In any event the CFMEU and ILC proposals reopened the debate and the council committee agreed to defer its decision for a month.


The plan the committee would have looked at was a $19 million conversion for public use.


Under this there would be a playing field, with an undercover pavilion for seating, player change rooms, toilets, gymnasium, office space and community meeting space. Sports lighting for training purposes with temporary fencing for ticketed events were also included in the costings.


Ian Thompson who lives locally and is spokesman for the community lobby group Open Up Redfern Park said: "We would have been happy with that ($19m plan), although we do have concerns about why it would cost that amount of money."


The Open Up Redfern Park group has been at the forefront of a campaign to lobby council to reject the Rabbitohs proposed stadium development.


On the ILC proposal Mr Thompson said: "A centre of excellence for indigenous people is fine, but if in association with that they [the ILC] are going to support a major stadium being built, then that's not fine."


Open Up Redfern Park was hoping that the environment committee would push ahead with the proposal to develop the park and oval as public space and is frustrated that there is still no decision.


"The whole planning process historically is that this has to be opened up and it keeps on getting delayed," said Mr Thompson.


Redfern Park began as a swamp, which was filled in during the 1890s to provide cricket ovals and tennis courts. The division between park and oval took place in the post¬WW2 years.


The oval is probably best known as the former home ground for the South Sydney Rabbitohs who are now trying to come home.


The team has not played a game at Redfern Oval since 1987. These days the oval is used for training as well as junior rugby matches and the annual Koori Knockout.


The South Sydney Football Club's lease of the oval runs out in October so Club chairman and long time Rabbitohs campaigner George Piggins has been leading the fight to return his team to the oval.


As usual one big problem is money. A report prepared for the state and government taskforce in 2002 by consultants ISFM Sports Project Specialists concluded that the current facilities were badly rundown and significant investment would be needed to meet the standards for hosting National Rugby League games in the future.


The same study identified the community desire for passive and general recreation including school sports.


Council placed three options on public exhibition in November last year.


The proposals ranged from development as a village green with full public access to the oval through to major construction of formal sporting facility for seating up to 20,000 people.


A fourth option put forward by George Piggins included a 14,000-seat stadium with adjoining commercial and club facilities, and undercover parking for 800 cars.


In March this year the club announced they had signed a $5.2 million deal to move from their current base at Aussie Stadium at Moore Park to Telstra Stadium at Homebush, that runs out next year and the options are move to Gosford or come back to Redfern.


That option looked very unlikely until the latest talks.


Ms Moore has gone on record previously saying the council did not support Mr Piggin's option.


But the CFMEU thinks it should be looked at in more detail hence the ban on demolition work.


Media officer with the CFMEU, Tim Vollmer said the union is acting in response to calls from their workers, local residents, the indigenous community and the Rabbitohs club and fans.


"The ban is a threat to council, a bargaining tool. We don't think a decision should be made until there is proper consultation with the community" he said.


NSW MP for Heffron Kristina Keneally also thinks consultation so far has been inadequate.


She said she thinks the CFMEU ban demonstrates strong working class support for a major facility for the South Sydney Football Club,

but the council has not considered petitions with signatures from outside Redfern.


"Well you know, people who live in Mascot and Eastlakes have a view on Redfern Oval. Souths draws from the whole South Sydney area. From Waterloo down to Botany Bay people consider themselves part of the Rabbitohs" she said.


Ms Keneally said there is adequate open space in the area but that active recreation facility is needed.


"There are no facilities in that community for young people to participate in sport, there's nowhere you could rum a little athletics competition, there's nowhere for junior rugby league, or community sports program to operate from," she said


Mr Thompson said: "The issue fundamentally is that the area has a very low level of open space per person, and in that calculation they include the oval as open space."


Council estimates show that based on 2001 population numbers, there is 5.9 square metres of open space per person in Redfern-Waterloo.


With a projected population increase of up to 40,000 people in the area by 2015 open space is set to fall to 4 square metres, well below the City average of 6.6 square metres.


Mr Thompson said: "If the oval is closed off then you lose that space and lose any opportunity to have it opened up in the future."



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