By Michael Giles

THE South Gippsland Shire Council has just produced its new Community Stadiums Plan (August 2021), but it might already be out of date.

And some of the details included in the plan are in dispute, including a key statement on page 3 of the plan: “There is no immediate unmet demand that necessitates the expansion in the number of courts available within the community.”

One of the main community groups consulted about the plan, the Leongatha Basketball Association, is reported to have given the following feedback:

“Participation numbers detailed in the plan are not a true reflection of what we do.”

The Korumburra Basketball Association raised similar queries: “We feel population and growth data for the shire needs to be reviewed and should be an integral part of this planning document. Even more so now given the recent migration to regional areas. We’d urge there to be a much more detailed analysis of the user groups and participation data listed; the current tables are remedial at best.”

The shire responded during the process saying: “Detailed population and participation analysis and forecasting is beyond the scope of this project. These items will be addressed via the strategic priorities identified in the final plan.”

So, while the plan includes as one of its three actions for immediate implementation, to allocate $50,000 to each of the shire’s six stadiums, there’s no serious money set aside for development or any specific priorities.

And that’s despite administrator Rick Brown acknowledging sport is the lifeblood of local communities and stadiums a key part of the infrastructure.

There’s just one ‘Strategic Priority’ for 2025 onwards: “To plan for anticipated future demand for the western and central areas of the municipality as population growth increases”.

But according to Cara Carter, vice-president of the Leongatha Basketball Association, that growth is already here.
“We’ve got 130 kids in our Under 10s ‘Gatha Hoops’ program and we desperately need another court. We’re at absolute capacity,” Cara said.
“There’s need for development to facilities right across the board, in the other towns as well.”
Ms Carter said everyone would welcome the allocation of $50,000 “to enable equipment replacement and desired maintenance tasks to be completed”, but an expansion to facilities couldn’t wait.

“They talk about using the facilities at the schools but since the arrival of COVID, we can’t get access to the schools’ courts.

“We’re not saying that basketball is the only sport in town but there’s been a serious upswing in participation levels, and we need to be catering for that.

“Ultimately, it might be that we have to go out for private investment if the shire can’t help us.”

Although the plan doesn’t make specific reference to future projects, a media release issued after council adopted the report last Wednesday provides some hope for sports that are already bursting at the seams.

“The Community Stadiums Plan… aims to augment the council-adopted Sport and Recreation Infrastructure Strategy 2020-2030 that encouraged reflection on existing facilities and how they can be upgraded for future generations to enjoy and use.”

However, at this stage, the emphasis seems to be on maintenance and compliance.

“The Community Stadiums Plan details the current state of these community assets, how they are currently used and valued by their respective communities and what upgrades need to take place for compliance reasons.”

In moving the motion to adopt the plan, such as it is, administrator Rick Brown underscored the importance of sports facilities.

“We are all conscious of the role that sport plays in this shire. It’s in many ways the lifeblood in these communities and it is important that one does as much as one humanly can to foster this involvement in and enthusiasm for sport.

“But sport, like every other activity, requires resources and those resources, in part, take the form of stadia.

“Maintenance and development of infrastructure requires strategic thinking and long-term planning, and stadia is no different.”

He said the plan was “critical to the future of sport in the shire”.