A Melbourne council has rejected a controversial plan to turn part of Footscray Park into a football academy, instead voting to set up a community advisory panel to consider the proposal.
- The proposal was for a fenced, floodlit show field with a pavilion and seating for 500 spectators as well as two training fields
- By a 6-1 vote, the council rejected the plan in its current form, and voted to set up a community advisory panel to consider it further
- While supporters of the plan welcome the promise of improved facilities, opponents say it will result in the loss of public open space
Melbourne Victory Football Club’s proposed academy, which would include a fenced, floodlit show field and pavilion with seating for 500 spectators, has exposed deep divisions in Maribyrnong City Council in Melbourne’s inner west.
The club has secured $10 million in State Government funding for its plan for a female and junior football academy, including two training fields, on a patch of open ground on the Maribyrnong River.
While some in the community have welcomed the prospect of improved sports facilities, others have condemned the proposal, for which the football club is seeking a 21-year lease, as a privatisation of scarce public open space.
Meeting in Footscray on Tuesday night, the council’s City Development Special Committee voted 6-1 to reject the proposal in its current form and set up a community advisory group to advise the council on changes to the plan.
“After hearing the feedback from the community, it is clear that there is more work that needs to be done to review the proposed football academy,” Maribyrnong Mayor Martin Zakharov said after the meeting.
Earlier, Councillor Zakharov said the condition of the park had deteriorated over the past decade, describing it as “a mudbowl in winter and a dustbowl in summer”.
He said he hoped the money the State Government had committed to the football club’s proposal could be used to improve the condition of the fields.
‘A chance to catch our breath’
Councillor Sarah Carter said she could not have voted for the “divisive” plan in its current form, but she had been encouraged by the football club’s willingness to alter its proposal to win community support.
She said the council needed to get better at consulting the community, and further consultation would be “a chance for due diligence … a chance to catch our breath”.
Councillor Gina Huynh said the she had never seen another issue that had “divided the community this drastically”, and it would be “nonsensical” to approve the plan without more information.
Councillor Cuc Lam said no one who had contacted her had opposed the academy — only the idea of locating it in Footscray Park.
Councillor Megan Bridger-Darling suggested some in the community had failed to appreciate the benefits of the Melbourne Victory proposal.
“I am so positive that this is a gift to Footscray, that this is a gift to Maribyrnong,” she said.
Referring to the debate about the plan, she said: “What a bin fire this has absolutely been.”
The only councillor to vote against the motion was Mia McGregor, who said she wanted the Melbourne Victory proposal rejected outright.
She said the proposal had “divided this community like I’ve seen nothing before” and the council did not have a mandate from the community to take the project forward.
Two people ejected, while others walk out of heated meeting
Councillor McGregor said the council had “right royally screwed up” its community engagement on the plan, and asked Maribyrnong chief executive Stephen Wall to conduct an investigation into how the council had consulted residents on the proposal, drawing applause from some in attendance.
In response, Councillor Carter accused Councillor McGregor of using the audience to “grandstand”.
The meeting was often heated, with committee chair Simon Crawford asking two people to leave, while at another point several opponents of the plan walked out, yelling at the councillors.
A survey conducted for the council of 516 residents in the vicinity of Footscray Park found 31 per cent in support of the plan, 36 per cent opposed and 33 per cent unsure.