Adelaide Football Club plans for a new base at Thebarton Oval will also impact a neighbouring community open space. Emma Dawes details how residents have been sidelined amid changing plans and politics.
Gather around. That’s something we like to do under the mature trees at our only large public park in the inner west, Kings Reserve. We like to listen to the chirp of the birds and the swoosh of the wind in the Eucalypts.
We like to go there to have picnics, walk our dogs, to play sport, exercise, pray, read – and before the Council pulled down the amenities – fire up the BBQs and watch our kids and grandkids on the playground.
In 2017 the West Torrens City Council (WTCC) identified this park – the one it described as ‘one of the city’s premier mixed-used open spaces’ – was in need of an upgrade, and budgeted $9 million. In this process they asked us what we wanted to do with this space.
We told them. We asked for the fences to come down on Thebarton oval, and for a really high-quality park, like those in the eastern suburbs. The kind we don’t have here.
We asked for multi-age play equipment, we asked for picnic spots, we asked for walking and jogging trails, we asked for nature play. We also asked for a set of goal posts to kick through, a half basketball court, cricket nets, and a match-quality soccer pitch.
Nowhere did we ask for another footy oval to complement the neighbouring and longstanding Thebarton Oval.
Fast forward to 2023 and we are bracing for the Adelaide Crows AFL club to announce their final master plan for the same site (and to learn how much we – as ratepayers and taxpayers – will have to fork out for the privilege).
In August last year we were floored to discover via a Crows press conference that the our council had secretly given the club carte-blanch to come into our suburb and take over not just Thebarton Oval, but also our beloved community space at Kings Reserve. After failed attempts at North Adelaide and Bowden, the Crows had decided that next on the list of sites for their headquarters and brand expansion was our prime land, just a drop punt from the CBD. And to rub salt into the wound, they had decided at this site they wanted two full-sized ovals, instead of their original proposal of one, plus a training ground.
The proposal was rushed through by the WTCC at short notice and without satisfactory consultation, and, despite their own survey showing a majority of local residents were opposed, the council – during caretaker mode – signed a memorandum of agreement with the Crows. This MOA paves the way for a lease that gifts the club 9 hectares to develop as they fancy for the better part of 100 years with minimal rates and huge rent rebates.
By handing over Kings Reserve, the community stands to:
• Lose a park. We do not gain an oval.
• Lose access to existing green space, as the Crows will control public access to both training ovals. We will only gain increased access to existing green space when the fencing around Thebarton Oval is removed, fencing already planned to be removed in the 2018 master plan. In that plan we gained an upgraded Thebarton oval and a park.
• Lose up to 100 mature trees and an environmentally diverse green space, with the tree canopy replaced by flat, closely mown, highly maintained, unshaded grass.
• Lose money: Most, if not all, of community facilities listed in the Crows’ draft plan will be funded by a $9 million contribution from WTCC, a similar cost to that the 2018 master plan incurred, yet with significantly less community amenities.
• Lose community groups that currently use the park, such as MA Hawks soccer club who have called the space home for decades.
• Finally, we lose potential. We lose community land, there is no increase in revenue, our rates are not lowered, and there is no new revenue generated that could be reinvested into our community.
The value of Kings Reserve within our community is amplified by a scarcity of green space in the City of West Torrens against a background of increasing housing density. For perspective 5.7% of the Council area is ‘open space’, and falling well below the 12.5% open space contribution referenced by the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act, 2016 (SA). Housing density is predicted to increase by 30% across the next few years.
The Crows’ proposal, and the deeply upsetting actions of our council, have brought together everyday citizens in our community from all walks of life to challenge what we see as grossly unjust.
We have asked and continue to wait for answers on important issues such as traffic, parking, lighting, tree-loss and access. And despite the ongoing proclamations from the Crows and WTCC on the benefits it will bring to the area, they have yet to provide any tangible evidence.
There has been no cost-benefit analysis considering this project against alternative uses for the land, there has been no traffic impact studies, and there has been no environmental impact studies. There has been no due diligence. Just an apparent blinding by the lights of a shiny AFL dream.
For simply asking these questions, we’ve been called everything from squeaky wheelers, NIMBYs, greenies, fans of other clubs, and a whole lot worse. This has only galvanised us as a group and our fight for what is right.
Whilst rejecting the label of NIMBY, we are happy to consider ourselves NAMBYs – ‘Not all my back yard’ – which is entirely appropriate, given that the Crows’ current master plan sets aside a small slither of space for the community at the western end of King Reserve out of
the entire 9-hectare site. Crammed into this space is only a fraction of the amenities we were promised back in 2018.
We are not anti-progress, or anti-football. In fact, we have repeatedly said the Crows are welcome to join us as neighbours at Thebarton Oval, provided they play nice.
What we do have an issue with is the Crows taking over our largest community park for a training oval that even they admit they will only use for several hours a week. We think it is an irresponsible use of one of our area’s greatest assets and believe the plans will change the fabric of our suburb and the way we go about our day-to-day lives, with significant impacts on our environment, our local businesses, our housing prices, and our general health and liveability.
We have an issue with our own council, which instead of acting on our behalf has chanced it to the goodwill of a commercial entity which is investing its money, future, and reputation into this facility and will be looking to maximise the benefit they can reap from our community’s land for the next 84 years.
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And we also have an issue with the Crows putting their hand out for significant funding from the State Government, Federal Government and WTCC to make it all happen. Surely there are far more worthy societal causes than the needs of a cashed-up corporate AFL giant?
Unless the WTCC has a change of heart, Kings Reserve will soon be the playground for the Crows, not the community.
Emma Dawes is a local resident and 5031 Community Facilities and Greenspaces Action Group member
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