A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald looked at the increasing challenge surrounding sports fields in Sydney – in particular supply and competition between sporting codes. It’s a big problem that will only become bigger over time without proper management.
The main issues raised, around increased demand and diversity of user needs, is a regular challenge at Centennial Parklands. We manage one of the busiest and most diverse community sports venues in Australia. With respect to turf sports fields specifically, we offer approximately double the area of sports turf offered to the public by the four surrounding councils.
Yet, set within the highest density population in the nation that is growing significantly, our role is not just to provide for today, but plan for tomorrow.
Take a quick look at this…
Who uses our sports facilities?
Here are some quick facts:
- Centennial Parklands receives more than 20 million visits annually
- In excess of 650,000 sports users coming to the Parklands every year
- We manage around 120 sports fields, tracks and facilities to manage
- More than 35 different sports played or regularly practiced
- We work with the more than 450 schools, clubs and community groups who regularly book and use our turf sports fields. These sports groups range from elite sporting teams (Sydney Swans, Sydney Roosters, NSW Waratahs), to community-run associations, to local primary schools.
- We also host numerous sporting events every year (both charitable and private) – and recently hosted the world’s largest rugby union festival, the Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival in 2010.
Check out our infographic for more information.
How we tackle these challenges
Our role is to provide and maintain high quality sports fields and facilities for the community. However, with this comes the realities of dealing with physical assets in an outdoor setting – this is particularly relevant to our turf sports fields.
While we’re investing in our sports fields and exploring new ways of achieving more, we also need to work with our booking clients to balance the ability to satisfy demand with the environmental needs of the physical environment.
Why are turf sports fields so challenging to manage?
There are issues regarding our sports fields that provide challenges. These include:
- Usage: our sports fields are some of the most intensively used in Australia;
- Weather: inclement weather is an obvious impact – extensive rains or other extreme weather events can cause unsafe conditions and damage;
- Capacity: sports fields universally have what is considered a ‘carrying capacity’ – that is, sports fields are rated regarding how much physical activity (wear and tear) they can ‘carry’ before the surface deteriorates and becomes dangerous or hazardous to users;
- Recovery: turf ‘recovery’ between seasons is essential to improve drainage, reduce root-zone compaction, aerate the soil and allow the grasses to grow back. Without this time to recover, sports fields would rapidly become bare and unplayable. A conundrum at Centennial Parklands is that due to the demand for sporting fields we are not able to schedule a lengthy recovery period between the summer and winter (and vice versa) sports seasons;
- Safety: public safety is not-negotiable, and we are required to maintain all of our assets in a safe and responsible manner. Public safety is critical to the provision of sports fields, and is dependent on maintaining turf in robust health over a smooth and even ground plane; and
- Quality: public safety does not just include safe, solid surfaces, but also includes minimising/eliminating weeds, such as bindii. Management of such invasive species improves the quality of the playing surface.
Our management approach
Turf sports fields don’t just happen. They require a great deal of time, maintenance and money to get them to a high standard.
We have a management approach based on best use modelling program for sports surfaces and part of this is to proactively manage closures during sustained wet periods or after heavy downpours.
We have a number of set criteria to judge and implement closure of sports fields are based on visual inspections where we look at the following factors:
- how much water is present on the turf surface;
- how wet is the turf surface and can it stand up to the rigours of sporting activities without the quality of the surface being detrimentally affected;
- the location of the field and the soil type present (eg. Queens Park drains far more freely than Moore Park West where there are constant drainage problems);
- the provision of a safe facility for our users; and/or
- ensuring that fields are available for use as quickly as possible and not have to be closed for extended periods to due a loss of quality of the turf surface through allowing sporting activities after wet periods.
Do we have drainage?
Yes in some areas of the Parklands, and no in others. Specific drainage infrastructure is very expensive to install, and only partially successful.
It is, in part, historical and physical.
Much of Centennial Parklands is built on a former swamp and is a part of the Botany Wetlands System. The general slope of the land in Sydney’s eastern suburbs is from the eastern coastal suburbs, downhill to Botany Bay. This means stormwater passes through the Parklands during the channelling process (the cross-sectional diagram on this page gives you an insight into this).
The combination of surface water above, and the water table below rising can lead to times when the ground becomes very soggy.
It may be frustrating to players when they see a little sunshine after the rains and want to get out to play, but the grounds often are still soaked and may take an extra day or two to drain or dry out.
As funding has become available, we have been rolling out a program of irrigation and drainage installation / upgrades across Centennial Parklands. This will continue over coming years.
Do sports field hire fees cover the cost of maintenance?
Centennial Parklands is a self-funded public parklands. We spend between $1.5 million and $2 million a year maintaining our sports fields, but money raised from sports field hire only pays for a minor proportion of this cost.
Sports fields hire fees are benchmarked annually and set to allow broad community access and use – as well as to assist in the cost of maintenance and improvement.
It should be noted that while we have an agreed principle that those who use our fields should contribute towards their maintenance, there are a number of key groups (like primary schools) that we do provide an up to 75% fee discount to ensure ongoing access and opportunity for as many as possible.
Wet weather notifications
The best ways to keep informed of the latest sports field status relating to closures are:
- Download our free smartphone app – it includes Sports Field Status reports that are updated every morning; or
- Call our Wet Weather Line on (02) 9339 6670.
For seasonal and various casual sports hirers, we also operate an SMS notification service.