March 31 - April 6, 2024: Issue 620


Council Announces Its Proposal To Install Synthetic Field At North Narrabeen Reserve - Draft Will Be Open For Feedback After Autumn School Holidays: State Government Seeking Feedback On Draft 'Guidelines' For Synthetic Turf In Public Spaces seen as 'cop out' 

Council stated on Thursday March 28 it has unveiled its proposed new plan for North Narrabeen Reserve. However, the unveiling to the rest of the community, in order to provide 'feedback' again on this draft Plan of Management, will not begin until after the Autumn school holidays.

The council said the 'unveiling' follows ''extensive consultation with the community about current and future uses of the reserve and what improvements they would like to see''.

The announcement follows the March 26 2024 council meeting. Item 13.1 ''Public Exhibition - Draft North Narrabeen Reserve Plan of Management''  listed recommendations, purportedly based on what was in a community engagement report, and adhering to an agenda announced by the then first-term Northern Beaches Council, created through forced amalgamation by the former Coalition government in May 2016 to 'speed up the approval rate for developments', to turn natural areas into artificial ones.

The North Narrabeen Reserve project webpage states council had over 200 responses on its social map and over 80 comments submitted on their comment form and via email.

In the 2016 Census there were 72,088 people in Pittwater.

Council's draft for the North Narrabeen Reserve Plan of Management proposes an all-weather synthetic sportsfield being installed on Field 7. The initial draft also proposed the same to be installed on Field 2.

Of the 253 total responses 7 were asking for astroturf or a synthetic field, with 4 of that 7 asking for this so a hockey field could be installed, all 4 reading the exact same in wording, and possibly the same person working out how to post a comment on a social map and making sure they did it right - 4 times. However, all 4 were counted in council's report.

Another respondent commented:

Would love to have a grass running track for young kids and adults. Synthetic track at Narrabeen is in poor condition, being closed next year for repairs and is not good on young developing bodies. Amount of injuries in young kids is horrific.

Although this response dates from the late 2022 period of comments being sought, it has become apparent, even in March 2024, that problems persist at the newly re-laid Narrabeen Sports Academy synthetic track referred to. These are still unresolved as this Issue goes to publication.

The Community Engagement report compiled by Council also records what the community 'would like to see' here that shows an equal amount of people stated 'no artificial turf here', along with one resident speaking at the March 2024 council meeting reiterating the same.

Many more were objecting to proposals to install concrete paths that would break up the green field spaces, others stated the unbroken green fields should be kept as grass and for that to be properly maintained, including more planting out of native species for the numerous wildlife that live in or traverse the area - respondents listing species that either feed, live in or nest in the space including Tawny Frogmouths, possums, black cockatoos, bandicoots, lizards and flying foxes.

This would confirm what has been found everywhere else a sports field has been made in a community; while natural turf sports fields have limited biodiversity value, they do provide habitat for local flora and fauna that synthetic turf does not.- residents have noted how much wildlife uses these fields during rain events and at other times to forage for food.

Others pointed out that the fields drain into Narrabeen Lagoon and are part of the pathway of the Warriewood Treatment plant draining to Turimetta, meaning any installation of synthetic field, which have a lifetime expiry and deterioration rate that requires them to be replaced and the old materials disposed of, would be polluting the lagoon and surrounds as that broke down.

2017 announcement: Council to install synthetic turf on grassed sports fields 

In July 2017 the Northern Beaches Council stated it had opened a $3.4 million facility at Lionel Watts Reserve in Frenchs Forest which included three synthetic 'fields' - two full size synthetic football fields, a smaller junior football pitch plus a senior AFL oval.

Then Northern Beaches Council Mayor Michael Regan stated in a release from the council;
“For me, it is one of our standout projects in recent years, providing a first class all-weather field to football, AFL, softball, cricket and touch football among other sports.''

Mayor Regan went on to reveal the next planned location for synthetic sporting pitches on the northern beaches.
“Council is excited that the next synthetic conversion, at Millers Reserve in Manly Vale, has started its planning stage,’’ he said.

“We will continue to investigate other opportunities to convert other sporting fields and encourage more kids to participate in active recreation over the coming months,” the then Mayor said.

Millers reserve, which drains into Manly Creek, also floods:

Millers Reserve submerged by water after the heavy rains, March 2022

In 2021 Council estimated maintenance costs would be $25,000 per year for a synthetic field at Millers Reserve. The estimated maintenance cost to keep it as a grassed area would be $48,000 per year to undertake activities including; mowing, aeration, fertilising and irrigation and drainage works on a high quality turf field. 

In May 2022 the council announced the re-opening of Cromer Park’s field 1 at a cost of 1.3 million dollars. The first installation of synthetic turf on field 1 was officially opened on July 1st 2012 under Warringah Council.

In 2022 cork was used for the infill, instead of rubber, to reduce the urban heat island effect and provide cooler conditions for players on hot days. There is also more storage for six-a-side goals, an additional pump to recycle water draining from the field and boot scrapers at every entrance to mitigate the infill from leaving the ground.

This project received a $814,442 grant from the NSW Government’s Office of Sport Greater Cities Sport Facility Fund 2021.

Part of that project cost included exporting the old surface to Denmark for recycling.

In April 2018 the council announced the conversion of field 2 at Cromer Park to a synthetic field at a cost of $1.45 million. That was finished six months later.

At the November 2018 council meeting it was confirmed the NBC would 'continue investigating laying synthetic turf on a number of sports fields' throughout the new LGA. The majority of then elected councillors voted for council staff to also confirm costings for Careel Bay Playing Fields and Kitchener Park and provide a further report to Council by June 30, 2019. 

The North Narrabeen AFL field was also considered in the report, but regarded as unsuitable because of high levels of asbestos contamination below the surface. The report found that the asbestos “does not pose any environmental or human health risk as it is encapsulated under the surface, (but) excavating it and disposing it at a licensed landfill would be a significant cost to the project”.

The papers listed for June 2019 do not contain that report, nor does it appear in July to August 2019's council meeting papers.

However, the September 2019 council meeting papers include a recommendation to councillors to ''include the conversion of the Careel Bay Playing Fields (Field 3) to synthetic in the 2020-2024 Delivery Program''.

And that 'Council continue to explore opportunities for future conversions including working with the Department of Education, and report back to Council when opportunities arise''.

Careel Bay playing fields sit on reclaimed wetlands, specifically mangroves, and are also an area that floods with any refuse carried into Careel Bay, the site of a  threatened Posidonia australis seagrass population, along with being a feeding ground for permanent resident shorebirds and critically endangered visiting shorebirds.

Voting for the Motion were Crs Amon, Bingham, Daley, De Luca, Ferguson, Grattan, Heins, McTaggart, Philpott, Regan, Walton and White.

Voting against the Motion were Crs Harrison, Sprott and Warren.

The minority of councillors that voted against the motion were concerned that the synthetic surfaces, which last about 10 years or less in Australia, cannot be recycled afterwards. 

Despite community objections, research and data underlining the problems that occur with synthetic turf and rubberised 'soft fall' installations, the council continues to announce the installation of synthetic and rubberised materials to replace natural terrain in public areas. 

The council is also installing synthetic materials at playgrounds, despite studies showing the children using these facilities may be impacted by breathing in fumes emitted from the materials and even the microscopic particles of the materials themselves during play.

Construction is due to commence in April 2024 for rubberised soft fall and synthetic turf to go into Trafalgar Park at Newport for a playground renewal in that space. Once again, despite objections, and listing a total of 54 responses overall, the council is installing these products stating in its community engagement report 'In some cases, the use of rubber or synthetic grass is required for accessibility' and that 'soft fall is a requirement for playgrounds to comply with Australian Standards' and is using this and mulch in that area.

Those already installed, adjacent to historical water runoff areas or beside beaches, are showing signs of breaking down soon after installation. 

November 2022 a year and a half on from installation - the 'softfall' rubber at Newport beach has deteriorated

Melwood Oval at Forestville has had a synthetic field installed and during heavy rains Julia W. witnessed "pulverised rubber" washing off and down pathways.

"It's not just the plastics that you can see, it's the plastics you can't see," Julia stated in 2021.

"The biggest concern is that we're putting these fields in water catchment zones."

Melwood Oval - synthetic field fragmenting. Images: supplied.

At the March 2021 council meeting, councillors Stuart Sprott and Roslyn Harrison called for council to halt approvals of synthetic fields pending a NSW Government investigation into sustainable alternatives, which was called for by then Planning Minister Rob Stokes. Their response was not supported by other councillors.

At the April 2022 council meeting Councillors Kristyn Glanville and Councillor Candy Bingham proposed a motion for a moratorium on laying any further synthetic turf playing fields on the Northern Beaches - most immediately at Miller Reserve, Manly Vale. The motion recognised that the NSW government is currently preparing guidelines “on the use of synthetic surfaces in public open space” and therefore sought to defer any further development of these playing fields until the guidelines were released. 

The majority of councillors, including Pittwater Councillors Gencher and Amon voted against the motion. Councillors Glanville, Bingham, Sprott, Grattan, Ryburn and Korzy supported the moratorium. 

State Government announces draft 'guidelines' - but no rules

In November 2021, the Hon. Rob Stokes MP, (then) Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, requested the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer provide expert advice on the use of synthetic turf in public open space in NSW. That announcement followed years of studies finding problems with synthetic turf and calls by community members for that investigation.

Council's synthetic turf for North Narrabeen announcement was released the same week the NSW Government announced it is now seeking community feedback on its own newly released draft guidelines for the use of synthetic turf on playing fields.

''Once the guidelines are finalised, they will be accessible to all councils, sports clubs and local stakeholders to make informed decisions on the addition of synthetic turf in their local sporting hubs.'' the state government announced on March 17 2024

Following 2 investigations into the use and impacts of synthetic turf by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer and NSW Government, the Department of Planning Housing and Infrastructure (DPHI) stated it worked with 'councils, key stakeholders and industry' to develop the draft guidelines.

The  NSW Government has stated it believes that the guidelines will be a valuable resource and tool to provide strategies and case studies to assist planners and sports field managers in delivering the best outcomes for their communities.

The NSW Government states it wants to encourage people to use their local spaces, get involved in community sport and take their kids to the park. Those without baby goats could take their children and other family members to their local parks instead.

A 6-week public exhibition period will run until April 29. Councils and the public can submit their feedback online.

Feedback will be reviewed and considered ahead of the guidelines’ finalisation in 2024.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Paul Scully said:
“We’re seeing a growing demand for sports fields and ovals in our communities, and we want to provide people with access to public spaces all year round in a range of climates.

“Given the conversations around potential impacts of synthetic turf, these guidelines provide councils, sports clubs and local decision-makers with research-backed information to make the best decisions for their communities.

“We’re confident that these draft guidelines will give decision-makers the information necessary to ensure that their choices align with the values and aspirations of their local communities. This is all about embracing modern innovation methods in our public open spaces.”

The Draft Guidelines are open for feedback until April 29 at:

The Guidelines state that unlike real grass Renewal costs for synthetic turf are higher and unlike natural turf, synthetic turf needs to be replaced at the end of its life. 
The document states that some synthetic fields sustain significant damage/disintegration during extreme rainfall events, depending on age, siting and condition.

Older synthetic fields (generation 2 and 3) are associated with significant environmental pollution.

The suburbs of Ingleside, Elanora Heights, Warriewood and North Narrabeen are affected by overland flow flooding as they form and are part of a floodplain.

The draft guidelines also point out that Synthetic fields have constraints on use to protect it from damage. Normal running shoes flatten the synthetic grass blades so fencing is often installed to keep the general public off the grass so as not to damage it. It is difficult to recover a synthetic turf surface once the blade of the synthetic is flat.

Synthetic turf fields are typically specific for certain sporting codes and codes have different requirements which reduces their flexibility. Line markings are more permanent and pile height and other features are specifically designed for certain codes/groups of codes. 

Synthetic turf has a significantly higher surface temperature that can impact on player and user comfort. In very hot weather, play can rapidly be cancelled on synthetic turf due to heat stress.

The radiant heat also creates heat that permeates into the surrounding areas.

Synthetic turf has a lifecycle of approximately 8 to 10 years, requiring a disposal of materials (mostly the carpet) when refurbishment is due.

It is purposefully designed to not breakdown quickly, and has the potential to stay in landfill for a significant amount of time after disposal.

In terms of recycling synthetic materials, a circular economy within the synthetic turf industry has been created in Europe. Victoria has also recently provided funding for an Australia’s first synthetic turf recycling hub, with up to 98% recovery of raw material for repurposing and distribution.

This disposal can be expensive, and is not factored into the lifecycle costs quoted by many synthetic turf providers, the state government's Draft Guidelines state. While design excellence and good maintenance practices can increase the lifespan of these products, thus reducing waste produced, end of life disposal is a key issue for synthetic turf which must be considered and mitigated against.

Synthetic fields are expensive. The figures cited in those installed by Warringah Council and the newly minted NB Council list millions of dollars spends.

What is important to take into account is that state government's 'Synthetic Turf in Public Open Space – Guidelines for Decision-Makers' are just that - they are guidelines only - they do not formalise any required practise.

In September 2023 AUSMAP,  a nation-wide academics and university led citizen science initiative surveying Australian beaches for microplastic pollution, stated they have been working with a Council in Sydney’s north-west on quantifying net microplastic loss from a synthetic turf field and the efficacy of stormwater pit traps. 

Sampling of four pit-baskets (200-micron mesh) and downstream stormwater nets under wet and dry conditions were used to assess the performance of stormwater mitigation measures. In addition, walk-off trials were conducted to determine microplastic loss on field users. 

Preliminary results highlighted up to 70,000 particles of rubber crumb and over 50,000 particles of synthetic grass had been captured in a single trap sample.

Key findings from this investigation highlight 'extreme microplastic loss' from this surface that would enter the environment unabated without the presence of stormwater mitigation traps. The impact of such mitigation (and the varying approaches) is yet to be reported - and invariably, to date, are not common practice. 

AUSMAP stated the results of the research, concessions of ‘significant knowledge gaps in key areas of concern acknowledged in the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineers (CSE’s) Final report, and mounting community concern, signify that the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineers (CSE’s) decision to adopt an accelerated ‘learn and adapt’ approach to synthetic fields in NSW is insufficient.

In an open letter to the government, AUSMAP asked the NSW government to take regulatory action to:
  1. Impose a 5-year moratorium on new planning and approvals for synthetic grass fields.
  2. Subject existing fields to pollution mitigation measures as soon as possible.
  3. Urgently develop end-of-life pathways (recycling?) for fields that will not cause damage (their case study identifies the only one in Australia, which is 10 years old and with Australian conditions mean they have shorter lifespans than overseas cases).
  4. Invest substantial effort into how to improve drainage and condition of natural grass fields to avoid synthetic grass.
  5. Continue a research program including epidemiological or health risk studies, heat impacts, environmental impacts, chemical composition, stormwater discharge, microplastic loss etc.
AUSMAP are urging the government to follow stringent regulation in line with overseas developments, and in particular to follow the European Union’s recent decision to ban intentionally added microplastics including rubber crumb following a transitional 8-year period.

However, as stated above, the NSW Government has settled on 'Synthetic Turf in Public Open Space – Guidelines for Decision-Makers' which do not need to be followed by any council anywhere - they are only 'guidelines'.  

None of the measures called for by AUSMAPs and residents who aren't part of the 'industry or key stakeholders', and continue to state that synthetic turf should not take the place of natural grass, are to be implemented.

The Minister for Public spaces advocating ''embracing modern innovation methods in our public open spaces'' are seen as a betrayal of maintaining the environment in these places and allowing industry, which will benefit financially from replacing the natural with the fake, and those codes of sports the fake fields would be solely for, being allowed to excise public space.

Some have stated that alike the plastic bags it took the NSW Government over a decade to ban, the last state government in Australia to do so, the environment and its waterways will choking to death with synthetic turf prior to government implementing what the research clearly points to as being needed yesterday.

Despite the numerous statements to retain natural green space in the North Narrabeen Reserve area during the first 'consultation period' the council has forwarded installing synthetic turf at North Narrabeen as part of its proposal and that has been passed at the March 2024 meeting to go out for feedback, again.

Council's proposals for North Narrabeen Reserve also lists new lighting for the baseball diamonds on field 5 so games could be played at night, further increasing the light pollution those who live alongside will experience, along with the impacts on wildlife light pollution is now known to cause, a play and recreation space for children and young people, plus new and improved accessible amenities particularly for people with a disability, families and female athletes.

There are also proposals for the other fields, including the Rugby Park (Rat Park), extra tree plantings, landscaping, improvements to roadways, parking and shared paths - the 'more concrete' that also wasn't wanted by respondents during the initial feedback period.

The proposed works will be undertaken 'over the next decade' and are dependent on funding, environmental assessments and planning approvals, the announcement states.

The community will be invited to view the draft Plan of Management and share their thoughts, again, after the Autumn school holidays.


NSW Chief Scientist and Engineers Report (CSE) Synthetic Turf in Public Spaces (2023) - The initial report was released in February 2022 with the final report released on 9 June 2023, despite being dated October 2022. The reports can be downloaded from the Chief Scientist and Engineer dedicated webpage

Wu, X., Li, N., Ji, H. et al. Determination and analysis of harmful components in synthetic running tracks from Chinese primary and middle schools. Sci Rep 9, 12743 (2019). 

Francke B, Wichowska M. Influence of Groundwater pH on Water Absorption and Waterproofness of Polymer Modified Bituminous Thick Coatings. Materials (Basel). 2021 Apr 27;14(9):2272. doi: 10.3390/ma14092272. PMID: 33925731; PMCID: PMC8125168

Moreno T, Balasch A, Bartrolí R, Eljarrat E. A new look at rubber recycling and recreational surfaces: The inorganic and OPE chemistry of vulcanised elastomers used in playgrounds and sports facilities. Sci Total Environ. 2023 Apr 10;868:161648. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.161648. Epub 2023 Jan 17. PMID: 36669664.