Active Open Space (playing fields) in a growing Perth-Peel

Below is a summary of this research. If you like a copy of the full report email me at garrymiddle@icloud.com - (click to email)

Background

Open space is an inherent part of the Australian culture, helping to define Perth and contribute to the physical and mental health of our community.  Public open space (POS) comprises the freely accessible areas that support the functions of recreation, relaxation, socialisation, organised sporting activities, informal play and environmental protection.
The past two decades has seen POS used for a greater range of applications, notably environmental protection, water management and walkable catchments. The introduction of Bush Forever, which aims to protect important bushland in Perth, and the move to better urban stormwater management through water sensitive urban design (WSUD), has seen more open space being set aside for these purposes. Both of these policies have led to significant benefits by delivering positive environmental and social outcomes for the community. The Western Australian Planning Commission’s (WAPC) Liveable Neighbourhoods (LN) policy, which offers reduced POS provision incentives to developers, has also had implications for open space. When combined, these initiatives have resulted in the perception that there are now insufficient active reserves (active open space) to accommodate organised sport.
Aim of the research

The aim of the research was to find out if the perception, that there are insufficient active reserves being provided in the newer suburbs of Perth on which to accommodate organised sport, is correct.

Types of open space covered in this study

This research focused on active POS which, for the purposes of this study, comprises those spaces that are deliberately designed and managed for organised sporting activities including for example, football ovals, soccer pitches, cricket grounds, rugby grounds, and athletics fields.
Whilst this study focused on POS, where necessary, regional open space (ROS) was also included. POS is vested in and managed by local government, and is given up free of cost by a developer at the time of subdivision, ROS is usually reserved and purchased by the State Government, and managed either by the State or the relevant local government

Research methods

A total of 139 suburbs were covered in the study.  Every piece of POS and ROS was mapped, and its exact size calculated.
Each piece of POS had a detailed map drawn showing the use ‘zones’ present. The zones refer to areas of:
•    Passive recreation 
•    Active recreation
•    Permanent stormwater
•    Passive/temporary wet
•    Nature conservation
•    Mixed conservation/stormwater

Figure 1 is an example of how the mapping was undertaken.  It should be noted that the ‘Active recreation’ zone is the actual playing surface and does not include the clubrooms and surrounding area where spectators stand – this is zoned ‘Passive recreation’. 
Suburbs were categorised based on the policies relevant to the provision of POS that applied at the time, notably:
•    Those that were built pre-Stephenson-Hepburn – called here Old-inner
•    Those built post Stephenson-Hepburn and before the policy constraints came into force – called 10% POS
•    Those that were Bush Forever and WSUD constrained – called Bush Forever and WSUD constrained; and
•    Those designed under LN but were not Bush Forever and WSUD constrained – called LN constrained.

Overall results

The data for all suburbs in each POS category were combined to provide an overall picture of the types of POS that have been provided.  Figure 2 summarises the data for all the areas of POS showing the total proportions of each POS zone or use type.

 Figure 2: Percentage of each POS use type by suburb category

Figure 2: Percentage of each POS use type by suburb category

The data show that in suburbs constrained by Bush Forever and WSUD, more POS is dedicated to conservation and stormwater than in the Old-inner and the 10% POS suburbs – this has come at a cost to both the provision of active open space and passive open space. 
For those suburbs that are LN constrained, there is significantly more passive open space, reflecting in part the greater number of smaller parks that are passive only spaces, and more space set aside for WSUD purposes. This has come at the cost of less active open space and less space for conservation. 
In common to all of the new suburbs, there is a reduced supply of active POS.

 Figure 3 shows the average percentage of open space (POS and ROS) by suburb category

Figure 3 shows the average percentage of open space (POS and ROS) by suburb category

Old inner suburbs have the highest percentage of open space, followed by the 10% suburbs and Bush Forever and WSUD constrained suburbs. It should be noted that the majority of the open space in the Old-inner suburbs is regional open space (of the 12.47%, 4.98% is POS and 7.49% ROS). The LN constrained suburbs have the lowest percentage of OS.  Figure 4 shows the data for active open space only. 

 Figure 4 Average percentage of active open space by suburb

Figure 4 Average percentage of active open space by suburb

As can be seen, the percentage of active open space in Bush Forever and WSUD constrained suburbs, as well as the LN constrained suburbs, is much lower than Old-inner suburbs and the 10% POS suburbs.
Based on this data, it can be concluded that the implementation of Bush Forever, WSUD and LN, whilst delivering significant environmental and social benefits, has resulted in a reduced supply of active POS in the new suburbs.

Key questions

Four key questions have emerged as an outcome of the findings:
Q1. Does the reduction matter? If yes:
Q2. What is an adequate amount of active open space?
Q3. Is there an existing shortfall of active open space and if so how much?
Q4. What is the predicted shortfall in active open space by 2031 if there is no change in planning policies?

Q1. Does the reduction matter?

In order to ascertain whether the reduced supply of active open space in the newer suburbs is having an impact - that is, are existing grounds being heavily and unsustainably used - a case study of the South West Corridor was undertaken. Playing fields in both POS and ROS were included in the study, as well as school sports grounds if used for organised sport on weekends and/or training during the week. The case study focused on two specific sports: the winter sport of soccer, and the summer sport of cricket.

The findings highlighted the following for the case study area:

  • Around half of the grounds in the study area are being heavily used, primarily because of the absence of grounds in the Bush Forever and WSUD constrained areas. 
  • The situation would be worse if it were not for the active open space available elsewhere.
  • Should Bush Forever and WSUD constrained suburbs continue to be developed in the south of the corridor with the same lack of active POS areas, then the pressure on existing grounds located elsewhere will grow, and more grounds will become heavily used. This situation is considered unsustainable. 
  • Additionally, there is also an issue of ‘spatial equality’, where the residents of the new suburbs of Cockburn have to travel much further to access playing fields than the residents in the established suburbs. 
  • The conclusion reached therefore was yes, the reduced supply is already having an impact.

Q2. What is an adequate amount of active open space?

Given the above conclusion, the key follow-on question was “how much active open space is enough?” Based on the data, the study developed Curtin Guidelines, not specific criteria, for the supply of active open space.  The Curtin Guidelines are:

  • For new suburbs where the density of development is typical for Perth’s suburbs 1.4% of the subdividable area should be set aside as active open space; and
  • For infill developments and greenfield developments that are much denser than typical 6.5m2 of active open space per resident should be set aside as active open space.

It is important to note that the above metrics are guidelines and serve to provide an indication of the amount of active open space required.  As illustrated in Figure 5, the intent of the Guidelines is best represented by a broad band rather than a fine line – with action needed if provision falls noticeably below the recommended Guideline.

 Figure 5

Figure 5

NOTE: active open space refers to the area of active playing fields. In general, at least double that again needs to be set aside to allow for supporting infrastructure such as club rooms, spectator areas, parking etc.

Q3. Is there an existing shortfall of active open space and if so how much?

The study was able to estimate the notional existing shortfall in active open space in the outer metropolitan areas of Perth by applying the above guidelines. 
This shortfall is estimated to be 51.6 ha, which equates to approximately 23 senior AFL ovals or 72 senior soccer pitches.
If the provision of the support facilities is taken into account, the total existing shortfall of open space required for active sport is around 150 ha.

Q4. What is the predicted shortfall in active open space by 2031 if there is no change in planning policies?

The study went on to predict the notional shortfall in active open space by 2031. Three broad assumptions were made:
1.    No changes to the application of the three planning policies the focus of this work;
2.    No additional regional active OS is provided; and
3.    The population predictions in Directions 2031 and also the WA Tomorrow reports.

Based on the above, the predicted notional shortfall of active open space by 2031 will be around 165 ha (depending on the populations projections used) which would be 75 senior AFL ovals or 230 soccer pitches. 

If the provision of the support facilities is taken into account, the total shortfall of open space required for active sport by 2031 is around 482 ha.

Summarising the data

Table 1 summarises the data for both existing shortfall and predicted shortfall for the Perth-Peel region, by sub-regions and the total for the whole of the Perth-Peel region.
NOTE: Where two figures are shown in a column (e.g. population growth), the first figure uses the Directions 2031 population predictions and the second the updated WA Tomorrow 2012 data.

 Table 1: Summary of shortfall in the supply in active opens space in Perth

Table 1: Summary of shortfall in the supply in active opens space in Perth

What about the inner suburbs of Perth?
The implications for the inner suburbs of Perth were also examined. The study concluded that currently the inner suburbs are well supplied with active open space, with an average of 7.27 m2 per resident, which is well above the Curtin Guideline.  However, Directions 2031 estimates that 47% of the population growth for Perth will be as infill in the inner and middle suburbs. 
By 2031, therefore, the predicted shortfall of active open space of in the central sub-region of Perth will be 79.0 ha, which is equivalent to 36 ovals or 110 soccer pitches. 

If the provision of the support facilities is taken into account, the total shortfall of open space required for active sport in 2031 is around 237 ha.

Spatial inequality?

One consequence of the reduced supply of active open space in the growth suburbs of Perth is the emergence of spatial inequality. The new suburbs of Perth can be considered ‘active open space poor’.  This is well demonstrated in Figure 6. The dots represent suburbs and the colours indicate:

  • Green – well above the Curtin 1.4% Guideline;
  • Blue – reasonably consistent with the Curtin 1.4% Guideline; and
  • Red – well below the Curtin 1.4% Guideline.
 Figure 6: Map showing distribution of active open space

Figure 6: Map showing distribution of active open space

Final conclusions from the study

  1. The data presented in this study make it clear that the implementation of Bush Forever, WSUD and Liveable Neighbourhoods has resulted in a significant existing shortfall in the supply of active open space in the fringe growth suburbs – notionally, this shortfall is 51.6 ha, which is equivalent to 23 senior AFL ovals or 72 senior soccer pitches.    Projecting to 2031, using the population prediction in Directions 2031, assuming no changes to the above three polices, and assuming no additional Regional active open space is provided, the notional shortfall of active open space in 2031 will be 160.7 ha. This is equivalent to shortfall of 73 senior AFL ovals or 225 soccer pitches.    Directions 2031 - If the provision of the support facilities is taken into account, the total shortfall of open space required for active sport is around 482 ha.
  2. Further, if instead of using the population prediction in Directions 2031 the updated figures from WA Tomorrow 2012 are used, the situation is worse: the notional shortfall of active open space in 2031 will be 170.2 ha. This is equivalent to shortfall of 77 senior AFL ovals or 238 soccer pitches.   WA Tomorrow - If the provision of the support facilities is taken into account, the total shortfall of open space required for active sport is around 509 ha.
  3. The situation for each of the four outer growth sub-regions identified in Directions 2031 reflects the overall picture for Perth.   It can be concluded with a high degree of certainty that the new suburbs in each of the fringe growth sub-regions of Perth already have a shortage of active playing fields.   Without a change to the relevant planning policies and without the State Government stepping in to provide additional active open space as ROS, this shortage can only get worse.

Opportunities

Of the three planning policies that have likely contributed to the shortages of active playing fields, changes to LN is likely to provide the best opportunities for gains in the future. Both Bush Forever and WSUD design have led to significant environmental benefits, which should not be significantly changed. 
An additional supplementary measure would be to work with the Education Department so that school ovals are available for joint use (school and community) and large enough/ fit for purpose to accommodate senior sport.
The new fringe suburbs that have a reduced supply of active open space can be considered ‘active open space poor’. There is an opportunity to gain greater insight into these suburbs - it is likely that it will be more costly for these residents to play sport, both in terms of financial (travel costs) and also time. It could also mean that the participation rates in active sport in these suburbs would be significantly less than in suburbs well-supplied with playing fields, and may have particular implications for junior sport participation in more vulnerable populations.