How the Rabbitohs Snared a Chunk of Heffron Park
In March, the Sydney Eastern City Planning Panel approved Randwick Council’s DA to build the Heffron Centre on the western side of Heffron Park in Maroubra.
The project will have an indoor multi-purpose facility with sports halls for community netball, basketball, badminton, volleyball and futsal, and a whiz-bang gymnastics facility.
So far so good, although the Bunnerong Gymnastics Association would disagree – they were hoping for a far bigger, national standard gymnastics centre.
But there’s another story here that’s not had much airplay, and that’s the virtual takeover of part of the park by the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
It seems the Rabbitohs approached Randwick Council some years back with a proposal to build themselves exclusive facilities – and Council agreed.
As a result, the Heffron Centre will also have a ‘high performance centre’ for the Rabbitohs. This is a huge chunk of public land that will include a training field, administration and training facilities for the club’s women’s and reserve grade teams, as well as its Souths Cares charity.
The cost is a cool $26 million, of which the Rabbitohs will pay just $4 million. Ratepayers will pay $3 million, and the state and federal governments – that is, taxpayers – will cough up around $19 million.
The centre will be owned by Council and leased to the Rabbitohs for a minimum of 20 years, for their exclusive use.
Why does this look like a bad use of public money and scarce public open space? Well, for a start, remember that Maroubra and nearby Pagewood are fast being converted from a low-rise area of houses to one dominated by high density apartment blocks, so the need for public open space in this fast-growing area is getting greater by the day.
Furthermore, it’s highly questionable that it’s in the public interest for our governments to spend such a large sum on a rugby league club’s elite facilities when so many other community sports and recreational activities have greater need.
Let’s also consider that rugby league is not a particularly popular participation sport in the East. For example, the local competition has just two men’s grades and a total of 14 teams. Compare this with, say, the local soccer competition, which has 18 grades for men and six for women, with far too many teams to count – and that’s before you look at the huge number of junior teams.
Council’s website says, “The Heffron Centre is a shared vision between Council and its partners, the South Sydney District Rugby League Football Club (Rabbitohs) and the NSW Government,” but this smacks of the same kind of thinking that gave us Crown Casino at Barangaroo, following Jamie Packer’s unsolicited proposal to the NSW Government.
Work has not yet started on the project, but it’s likely too late to save this part of Heffron Park for future generations of park visitors. Nevertheless, it’s not too late to let your councillors know how you feel if you are not a fan of big clubs taking over your local public park.