By CHARLOTTE MORTON
Members of the community group that fought to save Ryan’s Reserve feel let down, despite a spectacular win in their long campaign to save the facility.
The government has now approved a $3 million upgrade on the inner-city reserve, after backflipping on a 2016 decision to rezone the land for commercial use.
The original rezoning decision sparked a community outcry, including a 1500-signature petition.
Petitioner Maree Nihil said although the community was happy with the decision to upgrade the site, many felt disappointed at how Netball Victoria and the State Government handled the process.
“They’ve played a political game … [Netball Victoria seemed to have] no particular interest in protecting this space,” Ms Nihill said.
Ms Nihill felt the community had not been recognised for the role it played in saving the popular tennis and netball centre which has more than 950 registered players.
“I think we have to take a win … no matter how unfair it sometimes seems that the community has really not been acknowledged for winning the campaign,” she said.
“We feel quite disappointed in the way Netball Victoria and Richmond Netball Association were distanced from the community throughout this process.”
Richmond Netball Association spokeswoman Karren Clark said the association welcomed the Andrews Government’s decision to invest in the upgrade of facilities and courts at Ryan’s Reserve.
Ms Clark said the RNA was one of three netball tenants at Ryan’s Reserve. The RNA charter was to encourage, conduct and promote netball competitions in Richmond and accordingly the association did not involve itself with political causes outside of netball, she said.
In 2016, Richmond MP Richard Wynne announced a plan to rezone Ryan’s Reserve and build a 10-storey commercial and residential building in its place.
A community group was formed to fight that decision and a petition to save Ryan’s Reserve received more than 1500 supporters.
Three weeks ago Mr Wynne backflipped and approved a $3 million upgrade to the site.
Some residents have raised concerns that the decision was Labor’s attempt to win back the community in the lead up the state election later this year.
Labor came close to defeat by the Greens at the last state election, winning the marginal seat of Richmond by only 1.9 per cent.
Mr Wynne acknowledged in a speech to the community that he had made a mistake and that the Labor government had “learned a lesson”.
“I learned a lesson of the importance, not only of netball, but the importance of having these facilities made available long-term for people living in Richmond,” Mr Wynne said.
“The community has spoken and we’ve listened … locals want netball at Ryan’s Reserve for many years to come … we’ve secured the site, and now we’re upgrading it.”
The netball courts at Ryan’s Reserve will be resurfaced, the pavilion upgraded and the outdoor lighting improved.
It has not been officially announced when the development will begin.
To achieve this end, Ms Clark said the RNA Board had worked tirelessly with various government and sporting bodies. The board also made a strong submission to the standing advisory committee on the need for space and facilities for netball in Richmond.
At its most recent AGM, Ms Clark advised that the RNA board was heartened to receive overwhelming support for their actions from members. Netballers in Richmond have been neglected and deprived of compliant courts for the past 20 years and this investment is to be applauded, she said.
Note: story has been updated to include comment from the Richmond Netball Association