‘White elephant’: The $8 million netball courts no one has been allowed to use

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Key points

  • Eight new netball courts were officially opened last year in Yarra Bend park in Melbourne’s inner north but netballers have been unable to use them because of an outstanding permit and lease.
  • The $8 million netball facility was opened by community sports minister Ros Spence at a ceremony in September last year but the courts have sat empty since then.
  • Netball Victoria data shows the City of Yarra only has 661 registered netballers which equates to 0.63 per cent of the community, below the metropolitan average of 1.5 per cent and the Victorian average of 2.5 per cent.

Eight new netball courts were officially opened last year in Yarra Bend Park in Melbourne’s inner north – but netballers have never set foot on them because of red tape over mounds of dirt and a lease.

The $8 million netball facility was opened by Community Sports Minister Ros Spence at a ceremony in September last year, but the unused courts have been gathering dust since then. The City of Yarra and the state government blame each other for the delays.

Meanwhile, netballers inspired by the Australian Diamonds’ victory at the Netball World Cup this week have been left frustrated as piles of dirt still surround the facility and temporary fencing blocks access.

Netballer Lorelei Weymouth wants to be able to play at the Yarra Bend netball courts, which are sitting empty. Credit: Joe Armao

Lorelei Weymouth, 15, plays netball for the Yarra Netball Association, which has been proposed as the anchor tenant for the Yarra Bend facility.

She said it was annoying that the courts could not be used.

“They’re just sitting there,” she said. “It’s kind of a waste.”

Association president Naomi Allen said the club wanted to get into the Yarra Bend courts as soon as possible to accommodate its more than 1000 players.

“Those courts at Yarra Bend have been sitting there for almost a year since the official opening. There was landscaping works and mounds of soil that need to be moved and it all just stalled,” Allen said.

“It just got hand-balled between Parks Victoria and [the Department of] Sport and Recreation and the Yarra Council and nobody wants to take ownership of it.”

Eight new netball courts are sitting unused at Yarra Bend park.Credit: Joe Armao

The association is based at Ryan’s Reserve in Richmond. Allen said that site, which has just four courts, was at capacity.

“At the moment there are eight courts sitting there [at Yarra Bend] and not one child has had the opportunity to play on them. It is really disappointing,” she said.

“If it was an AFL football facility we would not be having this conversation, it would be done in a flash. As netball is predominantly women’s sport, they don’t see the value in doing it. It is just a big white elephant.”

Allana Sharman, head of government relations at Netball Victoria, said the mounds of dirt and temporary fencing meant it was not safe to run competitions at the site.

“The facility was opened in September 2022 and since the time it was opened we have just been trying to access it,” she said. “We have created programs and cancelled them on three occasions.”

Mounds of dirt and temporary fencing still surround the netball courts. Credit: Joe Armao

Sharman said a permit was granted by the City of Yarra two weeks ago, but Netball Victoria was still waiting on the landscaping works to be carried out, for a lease between Parks Victoria and the City of Yarra and for the council to facilitate the association as the anchor tenant to manage the site.

“The fact that we have it and can’t use it is really frustrating,” she said. “It is a bit hard to swallow when we have facilities for women we can’t access and there is such inequity of access to sporting facilities between men and women.”

The new facilities at Fairlea Reserve in Fairfield include eight competition standard netball courts, a pavilion with change rooms and viewing areas, a kitchen, meeting rooms and competition-grade lighting.

It’s part of the government’s Inner City Netball Program to address a gap in facilities in Melbourne’s inner north.

Netball Victoria data shows the City of Yarra only has 661 registered netballers, which is about 0.63 per cent of the community – below the metropolitan average of 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent statewide.

“We firmly believe this low participation rate is linked to the lack of facilities within the area,” Sharman said. “If we don’t have facilities like this at a regional scale we are not going to grow our future Diamonds.”

Sofia De Lesantis, regional director for the Melbourne region of Parks Victoria, said the government had worked with the council on plans to remove the large amount of soil left over from construction.

“The council has now approved our plan and we expect the courts to be ready to use in spring,” she said. “The soil will be used to create elevated viewing areas around the new netball courts and Fairlea Reserve, so the community can enjoy a great view of the game on weekends.”

The Yarra Netball Association has only four courts at Richmond while eight sit empty at Yarra Bend. Credit: Joe Armao

Spence said she expected the landscaping and other works would start next week.

“I’m keen to see these important facilities at Fairlea Oval open as soon as possible for the benefit of local netballers, volunteers, and the wider community,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the City of Yarra denied the council was at fault.

“At no stage has Yarra City Council delayed this project,” she said. “Any delays were caused by the Parks Victoria failing to provide the information required for council to be able to issue the permit.”

The spokeswoman said once this information was provided, council issued the permit within 10 days.

Stephen Jolly, councillor for the City of Yarra, said he did not understand the delays.

“Yarra Bend park is a demilitarised zone. It is an area that no one really knows who runs it,” Jolly said.

“Some of it is administered by the council, but it is not council land it is state government land.

“Things like clearing a pile of dirt takes a million years to do so we can get these kids playing the most popular women’s sport in Victoria.”

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