Complex labelled a white elephant

DRAIN ON RESOURCES: The rear of the Sports Complex shows the problems faced with water removal on the playing fields.
DRAIN ON RESOURCES: The rear of the Sports Complex shows the problems faced with water removal on the playing fields. Digby Hildreth

VENTURE a few metres on to any of the playing fields at the new Sports and Cultural Complex in Ewingsdale Rd and the ground will turn squelchy under your feet.

Run 22 pairs of feet on it in boots for 90 minutes and it would start to resemble the Somme, a soccer insider told the Byron News.

The situation - a $17 million facility that remains largely unusable after three months - sees sports groups tearing their hair out in frustration - leading some to describe it as a "white elephant".

"The fields are holding water; it's not draining away," Sports Association president Paul Irwin said - despite nearly two weeks of sunshine and drying winds.

The waterlogging is a major reason sports groups have held off signing interim user agreements - at a seasonal charge of $780 per field.

Byron Shire Council's head of community infrastructure Phil Holloway admitted there was a problem.

"Council recognises there is still some dampness in some parts of the fields," he said.

"The council was aware of the concerns of some sporting groups and wanted to work with them. Council worked extensively with the Byron Sports Association during the planning and design to ensure the field contained facilities the community wanted."

But Mr Irwin said some suggestions about how the fields should be developed were ignored.

The association this week asked the council to order an independent assessment. An inspection of the fields this week found there was "some dampness within the top two inches of the soil, but underneath it was dry" - information which will be passed on to an independent expert "who can provide advice on the best way forward", Mr Holloway said.

Some sports groups have signed an interim user agreement with the council - the Little Athletics, who meet on Friday nights and use the raised running track, Suffolk Park Football

Club, who train there on Thursdays, as well as the Ultimate Frisbee players.

But soccer clubs such as Byron Bay are "desperate" for more space, according to one insider who, like others, did not want to be named.

The sports that meet inside the complex are not much better off.

Following lengthy delays for a new floor to be laid, it is likely to be another six weeks before a manager can be appointed, and the courts able to be used.

And the $700,000 hole in the Sports Complex budget, caused by emergency repairs to the Ewingsdale Rd roundabout, has yet to be filled.

"If funds are recovered, it will be up to councillors as to how they will be allocated," Mr Holloway said.

The net cost of the sports complex will be $519,300 next financial year.

Meanwhile, sporting groups are being asked to give feedback on the council's draft sportsfield user policy, which was amended to make schools exempt from paying a fee for normal weekly sport activities, but to charge $2 a student for competitions. Clubs will have to pay for electricity.

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