The bitter fight over plans by Melbourne Victory to build a soccer academy in Footscray Park could drag into next year after Maribyrnong councillors voted 6-1 to send the proposal to a new community advisory panel for further consideration.
A draft master plan drawn up for the park included the new soccer academy on the western flank, but the proposal became mired in controversy ahead of a vote by Maribyrnong councillors that was taken at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
About 200 Save Footscray Park protesters rallied outside the town hall ahead of the meeting, calling on the council to reject the proposal outright.
But a majority of councillors voted in support of a council report that recommended rejecting the draft master plan until a new community advisory panel reviewed the proposal and explored alternative options for Footscray Park.
Councillor Sarah Carter moved a motion in support of the recommendation that was backed by all councillors other than Mia McGregor, who launched a scathing broadside on the handling of the matter.
Cr Carter said the issue had weighed heavily on councillors and that careful deliberation was required.
“If this process has taught me anything, we need to get better at consulting with the community.”
Cr Megan Bridger-Darling described the entire situation as a “bin-fire”.
“If this had been something I had seen on the side of the street, I would have called the fire brigade.”
Cr Mia McGregor received a standing ovation from the public gallery after saying the council had an “ethical obligation” to reject the proposal as it is intrinsically incompatible with passive use of the park.
“It’s divided this community like nothing I’ve seen before.”
Cr Carter accused Cr McGregor of “grandstanding” to the audience and “creative accounting” in relation to opposition.
Opponents of the proposal stormed out of the meeting before the vote was taken, crying “shame” and “save Footscray Park”.
Community consultation on the draft Footscray Park Masterplan drew 104 online survey responses and more than 1500 written submissions, 54 per cent supporting the proposal while 45 per cent were opposed.
Opposition to the proposal outstripped support, however, among those who provided a Maribyrnong address with their submission.
A Metropolis Research survey of 516 residents in the vicinity of Footscray Park found 31 per cent in support, 36 per cent opposed and 33 per cent undecided.
The report found the facilities would benefit community clubs and groups outside of Melbourne Victory training times, but noted concerns related to the proposed fencing, which was seen as privatisation of the park.
“The football facility component received significant support and opposition, raising a number of issues requiring further resolution,” the report stated.
“At present it is recommended that the draft master plan be rejected.”
Melbourne Victory Football Club made an eleventh-hour bid for the academy to proceed by stitching up a formal partnership with the all-female Maribyrnong Swifts Football Club.
Victory announced on Saturday that if given the green light the partnership with the Swifts would improve pathways for female players and coaches.
Swifts vice president Diana Drury said the deal would be a “game changer” for her club.
Save Footscray Park campaigners argue the proposal would effectively privatise public space and that Melbourne Victory should seek another location. Visit starweekly.com.au to see the council’s decision.