Dog walkers oppose plans to develop Astrolobe Park for sports as it's the only off-leash dog park in the area. Photo: Vanessa Lim

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By VANESSA LIM

Plans to utilise Astrolobe Park in Daceyville, near Kingsford, as a sporting ground have been opposed by regular users who want to keep it as the last off-leash dog park in the area.

Last year, a consortium that included UNSW, Cricket NSW, AFL ACT/NSW, and the NSW Government, made a proposal to create a recreational sporting ground in Astrolobe Park. The proposal was met with backlash from the local community over concerns about the loss of green space for relaxation and dog walking.

Concern for the park catalysed opponents of the scheme to form the Friends of Astrolobe Park, a community-led organisation focused on maintaining the public space free of sporting grounds. Robyn Gilbert, Secretary of Friends of Astrolobe Park, said, “There are not that many parks where you can actually just take a walk. Centennial Park would probably be the closest, but one of the things about Daceyville is that it is 80 per cent public housing. A lot of people don’t have cars and Centennial Park is not particularly accessible by public transport.”

Green space not public

Ms Gilbert explained that while there was a lot of green space in Daceyville, most of them consisted of golf courses and other sporting facilities, not openly accessible to the public or dogwalkers.

“I understand that there’s pressure for people who want to play organised sport,” Gilbert conceded, “and there’s always going to be demand, but there are also people who don’t want to play an organised sport, who just want to relax.”

Adrian Martano, a 19-year-old UNSW student and Eastern Suburbs resident who uses Astrolobe Park, was also opposed to the consortium building a sports ground.

“I do like to walk my dog a tonne, so I get the backlash. There are hardly any off-leash parks in this area.”

Mr Martano said by taking away off-leash parks not only would locals with dogs be frustrated but also everyone else. “By limiting off-leash areas, even more, it just means that people would have to resort to using not leash free areas to let their dogs run, which really, nobody wants.”

Ms Gilbert explained the motives that UNSW, in particular, would have in building a sports oval.

“It goes back to ten years ago. They used to have sporting fields down at Little Bay that they sold for about 150 million dollars, now they say they are short of sporting grounds.

“The other part of the story is that they are now building over their cricket oval at UNSW,” Ms Gilbert continued. “They’re putting some sort of multifunction sporting area instead, and apparently, that’s to do with a lot of international students wanting to play ultimate frisbee and new sports.”

UNSW not trusted

Mr Martano, who sometimes plays casual soccer at Astrolobe Park, understood the demand, but thought public spaces were still necessary.

“I get why they’re doing it. It’s simply because UNSW is getting more students, they have to expand sporting areas. But, as a local, I kind of disagree with them taking up our local parks. Is it even necessary to build a stadium? Why don’t they just utilise the oval they already have more effectively. Most of the time I see it’s empty anyway.”

Ms Gilbert also discussed the recent knockdown of the Allianz Stadium, which forced the consortium to move elsewhere.

“The other part of the story is that there’s a lot to do with the Allianz Stadium. They’re all cashed up because the government has given them a whole bunch of money to move out of Moore Park when they knocked down the Allianz Stadium.”

Ms Gilbert said the past history UNSW had with the David Phillips Field increased local’s suspicions that an additional sporting ground would negatively affect the community.

“It wasn’t supposed to have big high fences around it; we saw the consent documents for that and it was supposed to have quite a small fencing. Now it’s got eight-foot-high black fences around it and they lease it out and they have games, day and night. It creates a lot of noise and traffic. We feel concerned because they say they just want a little oval now and it will just have a little picket fence around it, but we don’t really trust them.”

Another objective for Friends of Astrolobe Park is to upgrade the park.

“One of the problems is that the council refuses to invest in the park, it’s not super attractive,” Ms Gilbert said. “Our ultimate goal is to not maintain it as it is, but we want to properly improve it. There should be a lot more trees, plants, paths, benches and playgrounds like a park.”