Synthetic Surfaces in Public Open Space
Investing in recreation, both active and passive, is a priority for the NSW Government. It supports better outcomes for everyone – health and well-being, bringing communities together and boosting the state’s economic productivity.
Many public open spaces experience demand for different types of recreational activity. To accommodate for so many different uses some areas have opted to use alternative surface fields – such as synthetic and hybrid surfaces – in place of natural grass surfaces across NSW.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment commissioned Ethos Urban to help us gain a better understanding of the social, environmental, and economic impacts, benefits, and limitations of using synthetic turf as a replacement for natural grass in public open spaces across NSW.
As part of the Synthetic Turf Study in Public Open Space, Ethos Urban undertook a literature review as well as consulted with stakeholders and communities over a period of May-June 2021 on the use of synthetic alternatives to natural turf in public open spaces.
Management approaches and best practice solutions identified in the consultation process
The following findings and recommendations from the Ethos Urban investigation bring together some of the different management and best practice approaches to help address key social, economic, and environmental issues identified in the consultation process and literature review conducted as part of the work.
- Consider revising the planning pathways for synthetic turf surface upgrades so they require community consultation
- Identify opportunities for targeted community consultation on synthetic turf surface installation on a site-by- site basis, including proactive engagement with neighbouring residents, sporting clubs and informal users of existing fields
- Identify opportunities for community feedback outside the site-specific planning process by undertaking consultation on strategic recreation and open space plans and plans of management of open spaces.
- Consider using hybrid turf options and recent innovations in natural grass species to improve field performance
- Enhance maintenance and management techniques for existing natural turf fields
- Investing in best-practice natural turf fields will increase hours of use for community sport.
- Implement best-practice natural, synthetic, and/or hybrid surfaces on existing sports fields
- Strategically plan opportunities for sport and identify under utilised open spaces and/or unlocking existing fields through partnerships with other asset owners
- Siting locations for synthetic fields that are in areas of low environmental sensitivity
- Analyse the actual demand of the sportsfield along with wider community needs for sporting fields.
- Best-practice natural turf can recover more quickly after major rain events, however, some playing hours will still be lost
- Hybrid and synthetic turf with organic infill (e.g. cork) can provide more playing hours played on during and after wet weather but there is a need to reduce infiltration risks into local waterways
- Synthetic turf can lose playing hours during summer due to extreme heat, while natural turf playing fields can be more comfortable during hot weather.
- Reduce the cost of synthetic surfaces through partial installation/combined natural and synthetic turf (hybrid turf)
- Consideration of lifecycle costs when deciding on surface type including adequate funding for maintenance and replacement costs
- Explore funding opportunities to increase the capacity of the broader sporting network rather than focus on a single sporting field.
- Conduct life cycle cost analysis for the specific sites where synthetic upgrades are planned, including comparing best-practice synthetic and best-practice natural turf life cycle costs.
- Improve data collection technologies to enable more strategic maintenance practices and target maintenance to reduce costs and improve durability
- Implement strategic lighting solutions to manage sports field use at night and minimise areas of field overuse
- Manage use of fields by shifting / rotating fields by changing line markings to shift/rotate fields to move high use areas around and allow high use areas to “rest”
- Increase knowledge sharing and education between Councils, particularly around maintenance and delivery.
- Best-practice natural turf absorbs rather than reflects heat and is more comfortable for players to use during high summer temperatures
- Hybrid turf/profile reinforcement/combined hybrid and natural turf can potentially reduce the heat load of fully synthetic turf.
- Opportunity to develop consistent management and mitigation techniques for synthetic and natural turf through clearer policy, best-practice and design, construction and management guidelines at NSW Government level
- Use of synthetic turf with organic infill (e.g. cork rather than rubber) can reduce the impacts of rubber crumb infill materials and other synthetic materials on the surrounding environment.
- Design natural turf fields with stormwater retention tanks and appropriate drainage
- Improved data collection technologies, such as using Cloudmaster to assist in ‘smart’ watering.
Next StepsThe NSW Government is building on the Synthetic Turf Study in Public Open Space with the preparation of Guidelines on the use of synthetic surfaces in public open space with a range of departments and agencies during the first half of 2022.
Further investigation by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer with research in more environmentally responsible synthetic surface methods will also commence and will inform the preparation of the guidelines.
We want to hear from you on the next stages.
Page last updated: 22/10/2021