The Ballina Shire is still strokes away from doubling its number of croquet courts after councillors voted in support of dropping expansion plans for the Ballina club last week.
The council voted to approve a revised draft Cawarra Park Master Plan [CPMP], removing previous plans to support relocation of the Ballina Croquet Club [BCC] to Cawarra Park.
Cawarra Park was described in information about plans by staff as ‘a quiet pocket between Ballina’s busy Cherry Street and North Creek’, while the BCC shared lawns further down the road with the Ballina Cherry Street Croquet Club.
References to animosity between the two clubs littered debates on the merits of allowing the Ballina Croquet Club to run in Cawarra Park, with Mayor Sharon Cadwallader saying it was a shame the two community groups and localities had been ‘pitted against each other’.
Proposals for a new, dedicated Ballina Croquet Club site came alongside a cost-benefit analysis for croquet that staff said supported doubling the number of croquet lawns in the Ballina Shire.
Richard Hughes from the Ballina Croquet Club gave a deputation as part of the meeting’s public access at the start.
‘The continuation of two clubs is healthy for croquet and the community,’ Mr Hughes said.
‘The Cawarra Park croquet proposal does not involve duplication of facilities and resources, but addresses current needs and has the support of 976 petition signatories from across the shire,’ he said.
Mr Hughes said the club had asked the council at as far back as May to amend the draft plan to include only two lawns instead of four.
But plans in the draft CPMP publicly exhibited for 28 days in June and July included an option for four new croquet lawns and a club house ‘with space to grow into the future’.
Revised plan reflective of community feedback
‘This matches the sentiment expressed by the Ballina Croquet Club and other croquet related community feedback during Round 1 community engagement activities and stakeholder meetings,’ staff said in agenda notes.
Staff had already suggested ‘suitable change rooms’, storage and car parks at Cawarra Park as part of the draft master plan, saying the facilities would support local water sports clubs ‘and other user groups’, pending the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis.
Later, community feedback during two rounds of engagement showed plans for a new croquet club in the park were some of the most unpopular suggested.
Respondents instead said they wanted green space, play and picnic areas and more boating facilities.
Staff said many respondents were sceptical of the idea of night lighting and extra traffic.
A revised draft master plan was presented to councillors at the October ordinary meeting in response to community feedback, with a recommendation to keep the park’s existing softball and baseball facilities.
Staff also recommended keeping ‘the open space associated with this field for the benefit of the general community’.
Ballina Island residents short on green space
Rae Smith gave a deputation in support of the revised draft master pIan, saying he spoke on behalf of ‘concerned residents of Cawarra Street and the area surrounding Cawarra Park’.
Mrs Smith said the park was ‘extremely valuable green space’ already serving a purpose to residents and community ‘who use the park daily’.
‘It is the only multi-use open space remaining on this half of Ballina Island,’ Mrs Smith said, ‘residents have no other option for informal recreation without leaving the area’.
Mr Smith said the precinct was zoned medium density and largely featured townhouses, units and fillers with little or no front or back yards.
The closest usable space for informal recreation was Kingsford Smith Park one and a half kilometres away, Mr Smith said, or another park two kilometres away.
Mrs Smith said the local fire brigade used the park to practice drills and a helicopter had landed on the park to drop off SES volunteers during the recent floods.
He also spoke of native wildlife and the area’s cultural significance to local First Nations peoples.
Baseball and croquet pitched against each other in park fight
Draft plans for Cawarra Park would in turn be part of the council’s Delivery Program and Operational Plan for 2021 – 2025 [DPOP].
As part of their revised plan, staff proposed combining the park’s sports amenity building and watercraft storage areas into one building near the edge of the softball/baseball field.
Cr Jeff Johnson tried but failed to gain enough support for an amendment calling for the matter to be deferred until after a council briefing looking at two smaller facilities enabling croquet and a shared amenity block with the boating club to be considered.
Cr Johnson’s design took into consideration ‘maximising the open space area of the park and further embellishments such as picnic tables and landscaping to encourage greater use of this space’.
Cr Johnson said he didn’t support more public funding for the existing baseball facility at Cawarra Park.
‘Why Council has spent over a million dollars upgrading baseball along with a significant annual maintenance cost on a site that isn’t big enough is beyond me,’ Cr Johnson said, ‘there is a pure proven need for additional croquet facilities and Cawarra Park is perfect’.
Cr Johnson said the park was surrounded by many properties and residential facilities that would be the primary users of new croquet facilities, particularly in terms of people aged over 60, and he wanted the council to consider using the space for a regional croquet facility.
‘I’ve done many drive-bys Cawarra Park, and I’ve never seen anyone using the grassy reserve,’ Cr Johnson said.
Council staff had suggested investigating croquet club expansions at Hampton Park in the centre of Ballina Island but Cr Johnson was unmoved.
The park featured a croquet court, but was mostly used for tennis, with expansions plans for the latter already in place.
‘I think a two-court facility with the potential for an additional two would be sufficient,’ Cr Johnson said of Cawarra Park plans, ‘not the six courts spread out over practically the whole park’.
‘I strongly believe that softball and baseball needs to be relocated to an area that would allow a senior game to be played,’ Cr Johnson said.
Greens Cr Kiri Dicker was the only councillor to support the amendment, with fellow Greens Cr Simon Chate voting against and Independent Cr Eoin Johnston absent from the meeting.
Independent Cr Rodney Bruem spoke against the amendement, saying that building a croquet complex at Cawarra Park would cost $4 million or more and the council couldn’t afford it.
‘There are so many sports and community groups in this town desperate for more money to expand their facilities because of our growth, because of what’s happened in Lismore,’ Cr Bruem said.
Council to continue hunt for new sports site
Independent Cr Stephen McCarthy then moved another amendment, calling for the council to approve the revised plan for Cawarra Park without the croquet club but to investigate ‘the suitability of providing a sporting hub at Council’s Gallens Road site, or the Old Depot site in Tamarind Drive, Ballina’.
Cr Nigel Buchanan seconded the motion, with support from Crs Chate, Eva Ramsey and Rodney Bruem.
The mayor voted against and thereby against the three councillors who appeared on her mayoral campaign tickets last year.
The Greens were again similarly split on the vote, with Cr Dicker voting against alongside Crs Meehan and Johnson.
But once the amended version of the vote became the motion, Cr Johnson was the only one to vote against adopting the revised plan, with Cr Johnston absent from the meeting.