Councillors divided on fake grass

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City of Rockingham administration building.
Camera IconCity of Rockingham administration building. Credit: WA News.

A controversial policy surrounding the use of synthetic turf on verges has been passed by the City of Rockingham council, with councillors at loggerheads over whether the product should even be permitted.

Ratepayers have been vocal for more than a year in opposition to controls on the material after residents were issued an order to remove synthetic lawn from their verges because it did not comply with a City Local Law 2001, and a policy proposed in October 2012.

A key element of the new policy identifies acceptable materials including synthetic lawn be allowed to cover up to 50 per cent of the verge or 10sqm, whichever is greater. But, during the meeting, Councillor Matthew Whitfield put forth an alternative motion that could have seen the allowance for verges to be covered completely in turf and other materials like concrete.

Cr Whitfield said ratepayers should not be penalised for making efforts to care for their verges, and applying restrictions “discouraged people trying to do the right thing”.

“If you don’t want synthetic turf don’t have it. Why force people against their will?” he said.

But Crs Chris Elliott and Katherine Summers cited the various environmental impacts of synthetic turf and pushed for it to be completely banned on verges.

“Rockingham City Council always develops evidence based policies,” Cr Elliott said. “The impact of synthetic turf is great.” Cr Elliott cited studies that revealed synthetic turf could increase air temperature by up to four degrees, and how water run-off from turf carried heavy metals and micro-plastics with it.

He said environmental damage caused by the material, and its eventual home in landfill, was significant and urged other councillors to consider how the widespread use of turf across the City’s verges could impact temperatures in years to come.

“In 30 years time when Rockingham is an oven and people want to know why, they can look back on the minutes and know who to blame if we pass this,” he said.

“There are some things we don’t need to compromise on and this is one,” Cr Summers said.

Crs Andrew Burns, Joy Stewart, Deb Hamblin and Leigh Liley were happy to keep the status quo, and Cr Burns said “while it might not be an ideal environmental product”, synthetic turf served a purpose.

“What we are arguing about is a couple of hockey fields’ worth of plastic turf,” he said.

Cr Stewart said constituents had spoken and a “vast majority” supported synthetic turf.

The City received 198 submissions on the proposal, with 144 in support of permitting 50 per cent of verges being covered in materials including synthetic turf.

While she acknowledged the environmental impacts of the material, Cr Deb Hamblin said the City asking residents to care for verges meant they should have some flexibility and allow a portion of turf. The policy was passed 4-3. Mayor Barry Sammels and Cr Mark Jones could not vote as they had financial interests in the matter and Cr Lee Downham was not present.

The new policy requires future owner/occupiers to submit a plan for assessment and approval if they are using other acceptable materials that are not natural lawn, garden or mulch.

Council adopted transitional arrangements to allow for the registration of existing verge treatments not covered by the new policy.

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