Bruce Bickerstaff
Recreation Planner
Randwick City Council
Sydney, Australia


Local Government plays an important role in determining the range of leisure opportunities available to the public at the local level. However the nature of the service provided by many Councils is more indicative of the Australian society of three decades past than it is of the Australian society of today. Recreation Planning in these Councils is a simple matter of adding 10% on to what was spent on oval maintenance last year.

Consequently the current situation is one in which large numbers of people have turned their backs on the narrow range of recreational opportunities offered by local government. These people are left to explore the opportunities offered by other public agencies, and by the private sector. However this selection may be equally narrow depending on the geographic and/or economic situation of those concerned.

Where Councils have employed suitably trained staff to undertake research and formulate appropriate policies to guide Councils actions, credible attempts are being made to address the significant gap which typically exists between what has traditionally been provided and what is now required. The results of recent surveys, such as that conducted by Randwick Council, have highlighted the existence of this disparity. The procedures for handling the relevant data for planning and management purposes have been streamlined by the increasing availability of computer facilities at the Local Government level. The practical application of these procedures at Randwick Municipal Council in Sydney is described in some detail.

However of fundamental importance is the attitude towards change of those in positions of power, for where there is opposition to change, for whatever reason, progress in improving the effectiveness of the Council's Parks and Recreation service will be slow or non-existent. In a more receptive environment the foundation for successful recreation planning rests with the adoption of a clear statement of goals for the Parks and Recreation service. The next task is one which involves gaining a clear picture of the current situation in relation to overall recreation supply and demand. And so we arrive at the halfway mark in turning that momentous 180 degrees.

The key to turning the rest of the way rests on the Council's ability to effectively turn information into policy, and then policy into action. Sound management practices are critical at this point, and in many Council's this is an area where substantial improvement is required. Ongoing research and monitoring is also important as both supply and demand factors are constantly in a state of change and so policies need to be amended accordingly.


"...What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun? They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws. And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows? And what is it to acknowledge the laws but to stoop down and trace their shadows upon the earth? But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you?..."

. . . Kahlil Gibran


We have a problem in this country and it's called Local Government. Seriously now, it does a pretty good job but it does have some rather quaint habits when it comes to the provision of its Parks and Recreation service. With eyes all misty and fixed upon some distant image of surf boats crashing though waves and football grand-finals, it is striding majestically backwards into the future. Public well-being thus becomes embodied in the standard of turf cover on the ovals. Of course if you don't play football there's always cricket.

To be fair it must be noted that Local Government in this country is by no means a uniform entity. Not only do size and budget vary dramatically, but so too do things like technological sophistication, emphasis on research and policy development, and attitude towards change in general. There is work being done in some Councils today which is the equal or better of anything of a similar nature coming out of the private sector. It is not at these Councils that this paper is directed.

The theme of this conference is 'Leisure, Technology and Lifestyle', but can it be said that Local Government has any appreciable influence on peoples lifestyles through its parks and recreation service? I believe that it can, although the extent to which it does is dependant upon a number of factors such as:

In urban fringe or rural areas for example, there is often a narrow range of recreational opportunities. Most of these are either provided by, or at least facilitated by, the local Council. Alternatively where the client group is economically disadvantaged then the overall range of recreational opportunities may be of little consequence if they are not readily accessible with respect to public transport, entry fees and so on. In such cases it may not be a simple matter of jumping in the family car and driving to another area to recreate.

Councils can influence the nature of local leisure opportunities not only through what they themselves directly provide but also through their dealings with other leisure providers. For example, private entrepreneurs deal with the Council through the development and building approval process. Some may also seek to use Council controlled areas to provide recreational venues through a lease agreement with the Council. Other government or non-profit agencies can likewise be either encouraged or discouraged from providing recreational services depending on the quality of their relationship with the Council.

It is apparent that many in the community are not being adequately serviced in relation to their recreational needs. If this is the case then why are Councils not doing anything about it? It could be that Councils are simply not aware of the scale of the problem, for on the surface it would appear that those making demands are having those demands met. The question is, are those making vocal demands truly representative of broader community needs? If there is a silent majority, why do they remain silent? The following possible answers are put forward for consideration:

  1. the silent majority has been disenfranchised for so long that they neither know nor expect anything better from the Council.

  2. many of the poorly-serviced activities are not normally associated with organised group structures. In fact it would appear that many people today shy away from such structures. This makes it very difficult for people to be politically mobilised.

    The established recreational clubs of today have employed certain tactics which make it difficult to change the existing status quo. These tactics, together with certain broader social trends have effectively pulled up the drawbridge and made it very difficult for new groups and new activities to be resourced. These broader social trends include:

    increased costsgreater competition for land
    increased social transienceincreased 'red tape'

    Most importantly the established groups have significant numbers of followers, which makes them financially secure and gives them a political voice. They have good quality venues (some even have licensed club operations) which attract additional members, albeit of a social or 'associate' nature. With healthy bank balances they can afford to commission consultants and solicitors to 'go in to bat ' for them when planning or management proposals appear threatening (such situations have occurred in Randwick in recent times).

    The senior members of such clubs invariably have close relationships with senior Council staff and elected officials, often having grown up in the same area and even attended school together. They argue vehemently that they represent the public interest and are often supported by an adoring local media in this belief.

    All this would not be such a great problem if Local Government had the financial resources to simply expand into new areas whilst maintaining traditional services. However this is not the case, and like a giant amoeba, for it to move forward Local Goverment must pull its tail end in for it to be able to push out in a new direction.

    Many traditional services can be maintained, but this can only be achieved on the basis of greater efficiency in service provision than has hitherto been the case. The recipients of such services must also be prepared to pay their fair share towards the cost of service provision.

    Simply arguing that Councils should spend more on recreation is impractical given current realities and only serves to avoid the real problems inherent in the existing system of resource allocation.

    Current Patterns of Resource Allocation

    The size of the slice of the Council "pie" given over to parks and recreation, and the way in which this slice is subdivided varies from Council to Council. However in the author's experience there are certain common trends, these being:

    1. Large sums are directed towards well-established clubs through a number of avenues such as -

      • capital assistance grants to maintain or upgrade clubhouses and other facilities
      • organisational subsidies
      • supply of labour, equipment or materials

    2. Little accountability or monitoring of the effectiveness of expenditure in relation to grants to clubs, or generally

    3. Revenue generated by user charges for Council provided venues is well below the cost of facility operation or maintenance. Rent or lease charges are well below commercially realistic levels, even when facilities are operated by lessees as commercial ventures

    4. The standard of Council-provided venues are often lower than similar types of venues provided by private enterprise. Many Council facilities only accomodate a very limited range of activities and are frequently monopolised by a single user group.

    5. Large sums are spent on maintenance of playing fields and parks which are vacant for much of the time. The parks are vacant for several reasons such as:

      • traditionally the best use of open space was seen to be for playing fields. Passive development was seen as appropriate (although of lesser significance) only in sites too steep or small to accomodate a playing field.

      • Such areas were seen as the preserve of the idle, the old, the unhealthy and women. Not surprisingly many such areas are poorly designed, poorly maintained and generally inhospitable.

      • Most people in Australia live in areas of relatively low population density. The great Australian dream-home features a backyard big enough to accomodate many family activities in comfort, safety and privacy.

      • In the larger urban centres many people avoid parks due to the danger of violent or anti-social behaviour behaviour on the part of other park visitors.

    The outcome of this situation is that no-one benefits as much as they should from this area of Council operation. However some do disproportionately well, and if a single group could be identified then it would be males aged 15-25 years, and with an interest in traditional team or club activities.

    Whether or not the sporting clubs really represent a majority viewpoint does not become clear until Councils undertake appropriate research and only a relatively small number of Councils have done so.

    The Basis for Resource Allocation

    The way in which decisions are made regarding the Councils Parks and Recreation service also varies from Council to Council.

    The approach adopted by a Council is critical as it has an important bearing on the effectiveness of the Parks and Recreation service, and is almost always a reflection of broader Council attitudes towards change. In an article by Ken Marriott a typology of planning procedures was put forward.

    The most common approach used by Local Government is known as the 'ad hoc approach'. It is characterised by a series of independant decisions made regarding the parks and recreation service, usually on the basis of demands by pressure groups or the whims of elected officials.

    A second technique is known as the 'standards approach' and involves the application of a set of provision standards to a given population. In this way we are meant to provide so much parkland or so many facilities per thousand head of population. These standards are basically arbitary and take no account of the variable requirements in different areas.

    The next technique is known as 'investigative planning'. The major feature of this approach is research into the nature of, and special requirements of, the local population. Typically this information is then fed into some sort of policy formulation process.

    The final technique is known as 'participative planning'. While investigative planning has been characterised as planning with people, participative planning features planning by people - using measures such as precinct committees. As with the investigative planning approach, the aim is to ensure that the Council's actions mirror the broader interests of the community and not those of the Council itself or vocal well-connected minority sporting groups.

    Few Councils would fit neatly into one of these boxes, and in reality more than one approach may be utilised. Overall however there appears to be a general move towards investigative planning and participative planning and away from the ad hoc and standards approaches. Such a movement is clearly apparent in the recent history of Randwick Municipality.


    The Municipality of Randwick contains some 116,000 people in an area of 4,655 hectares along the coastline to the south-east of Sydney's CBD. The Council's total budget for 1988 is $46,383,402 of which approximately $6,000,000 will be spent on parks and recreation. Most of this expenditure is related to the upgrading and maintenance of parks, beaches and playing fields. The Council is directly responsible for approximately 300 hectares of open space.

    Staff Resources

    A major element in successful recreation planning is access to suitably trained staff. At the moment, in NSW at least, only a small number of Councils have staff with training in recreation planning. This situation is improving but only very slowly. Such staff are not only important in carrying out the necessary research and policy development, but also in working to educate and enlighten other staff and elected officials on the significance of recreation and on the need to plan in order to achieve an effective and equitable parks and recreation service.

    At Randwick new positions were created in 1983 for a Landscape Architect and a Recreation Planner in what was a major change in management direction. (There is now an additional Landscape Architect, a Landscape Contract Supervisor, and a Horticulturalist). The subsequent preparation of a major Plan of Management and several smaller planning and design exercises quickly drove home the fact that the information base within the Council was far from adequate. In rectifying this situation a programme of surveys was designed and implemented, and a computer-based information system was gradually established.

    Technology and Information

    In 1983, staff within the Engineers Department had access to a single mainframe terminal. By 1988 there were two terminals as well as five personal computers available for use. Access to computer facilities has been an essential ingredient in the work that has been carried out at Randwick.

    Harking back to the conference title, the major influence of technology on Local Government leisure planning has been in the area of information handling. Local Government, like most institutions today is handling far greater quantities of information than it has in the past. Computers are of enormous assistance in storing, retrieving and manipulating this information. The flow-on effect has been an increased willingness to undertake procedures which in the past have been too time- consuming to be practicable.

    The School of Town Planning at the University of New South Wales recently compiled the results of an Australia-wide survey into the use of computers by Local Government. The response rate to the survey was 80% giving it a high degree of credibility. They found that only one third of Councils used computers for planning purposes. However there was considerable variation between states with results of 24% for Queensland, 39% for Victoria, and 57% for New South Wales. Although personal computers are not yet widely used, they are being rapidly taken up by Councils. Eighty-three per cent of those in use have been acquired in the last three years. In N.S.W. 36% of Councils used P.C's for planning-related purposes, in Victoria 22%, and in Queensland 13%.

    Getting back to Randwick, the development of a mainframe-based Open Space and Leisure Inventory system has created an useful 'cupboard' for the large amount of information gleaned through the various surveys undertaken. These surveys include:

    A personal computer is also used in the analysis of Census material, which until the recent development of specialised software was a major under-utilised resource within Local Government. The Census material so analysed can be presented in easily comprehensible map form using a programme developed by the CSIRO known as LAMM (Local Area Microcomputer Mapping).

    A further PC application will be made in the near future with the use of an additional programme from CSIRO known as LUPIS (Land Use Planning Information System). This programme has the ability to balance competing land-uses using a set of weighted policies. These policies draw upon an array of data items in determining the most appropriate form of development for an area.

    Randwick Recreational Needs Survey

    In 1986 Randwick Council commissioned McNair Anderson Associates to undertake a survey of recreational participation patterns and perceived needs. The survey mode was face-to-face interviewing and the sample comprised 600 randomly selected households. The sixteen page questionnaire generated 640 columns of punched data, making it the most comprehensive survey of its kind undertaken by a Council in NSW.

    The questionnaire was finalised after extensive discussions between Council and the Consultants which was then followed by pilot-testing.

    Briefly, the study was designed to achieve the following:

    1. Establish existing patterns of recreational participation with respect to:

      • what activities were participated in, and the usual form of participation, e.g. as player, spectator, organiser
      • frequency of participation
      • the usual organisation of activity participated, e.g. school, church, club, family, etc.,
      • the usual venue for participation, e.g. own home, friends home, elsewhere in Municipality, outside Municipality
      • mode of travel to activity venue
      • degree of satisfaction with local facilities for particular activities

    2. Obtain some indication of latent demand; activities which people would like to participate in, but don't for one reason or another, eg. what are the reasons why these activities are not undertaken?

    3. Determine residents viewpoints on a number of policy issues currently confronting the Council, or likely to do so in the future

      • ways in which Council could best become involved in promoting recreational activity in general
      • frequency of use of Randwick parks and beaches
      • items which currently spoil enjoyment of Randwick parks and beaches
      • additional recreational facilities required the percentage of Council's revenue which should be directed towards its parks and recreation service in relation to its other services

    4. Enable the results of the survey to be broken down and analysed on the basis of factors such as age, sex, precinct of residence, and educational level. The questions on demographic variables also enabled the survey sample to compared to the Census results for the area for the purpose of judging the representativeness of the survey sample.

    The Survey Findings

    Given the space that I have available I can only scratch the surface of the survey findings. At the broadest level the most striking feature of the results was the great variability of individual responses. The results for particular questions varied significantly according to factors such as age, gender, precinct of residence, nature of household, and so on. Based on these sorts of findings, it would be most unwise to plan from the perspective of an 'average' Randwick recreationist.

    With respect to the popularity of activities, the general trends which were apparent were consistent with the findings of other recent surveys such as the nation-wide leisure survey commissioned by the Federal department with responsibility for sport and recreation.

    The Randwick survey looked at participation in thirty-eight activities. These were predominantly outdoor activities, and ones with which the Council had an involvement, or was likely to do so in the future. Appendix One lists the relative popularity of the activities surveyed from the viewpoint of total participation (incl. on-site spectators and organisers) and also from the viewpoint of actual 'hands on' participants where such a differentiation was applicable.

    Other more specific trends which were apparent were as follows:

    Implementing the findings

    When implementing the findings of surveys such as that conducted at Randwick, one must be mindful of the limitations imposed by statistical and other methodological constraints. For example, one would not in practice determine the allocation of resources simply on the basis of the relative popularity of activities alone. This is because current participation patterns are the function of a number of variables related to the accessibility to venues or resources catering to those particular activities. One needs to look closely at the current patterns of supply and demand in relation to each particular activity, as well as the historical backdrop.

    In fact some survey questions may have little relevance to decision-making in the logical planning sense, but may be worth including as they may be useful in highlighting the relative political acceptibility of adopting one option over another. Such information can be very useful political "ammunition" when arguing either for or against a particular course of action.

    It may be that it is not so much the absolute values achieved for each individual data item which is important as much as the general trends and the relativity inherent in the findings.

    The findings of the research at Randwick have not been presented to the aldermen in the form of mind-numbing volumes of information, but rather have been drawn upon gradually in the following manner:

    Promoting Local Leisure Opportunities

    Another finding of the Randwick household survey was that many people appear to be unaware of local leisure opportunities. This is undoubtedly a common situation, at least in larger population centres. In these areas the patterns of recreation supply change rapidly and there is also a relatively high degree of population movement.

    The value of providing quality leisure opportunities is greatly diminished if a large part of the community is unaware of their existence. This is another area where Local Government would do well to learn a few lessons from the commercial sector. Currently many Councils perform poorly in this area, and the cynics among us would suggest that it is due in part to a desire to minimise maintenance costs.

    Randwick Council was also a late-starter in this regard and it was not until 1985 that a Leisure Directory and two pamphlets were produced in the first serious attempt to increase community awareness of local leisure opportunities. The subsequent development of the mainframe Inventory system has opened up the possibility of direct public access to a bank of relevant information by way of terminals in the Council's Administrative Centre and Library.

    An Appropriate Time Frame for Planning

    The term planning conjures up an image of striving for some desirable end-state to be achieved at some point in the future. But when is the future and what is an appropriate time frame for recreation planning at the Local Government level? In answering this question we should be cognisant of the following points:

    What then are the implications of these factors? It would seem that it is neither practical nor necessary for Councils to plan for long periods into the future. A planning period of five years is now in use at Randwick and would appear to be quite adequate. We can and should however plan in such a way as to maximise our future options as far as possible.

    At the same time many Councils are moving towards adopting five year budgetary programmes. With a five year planning period we can base decisions on what we now know to be so at the present, and not what has been so in the past or may be so in the future. If there is one thing we can be sure it is that the present is closer to the future than the past.


    I have attempted to portray the role played by Local Government in the provision of leisure opportunities and its subsequent influence on leisure patterns and hence lifestyle. This influence is more pervasive than many would imagine, particularly when we focus in on specific segments of the Australian community.

    I have emphasised the critical importance of having suitable staff on hand and of having an accessible and comprehensive data base on the supply of, and demand for, recreational resources. The increasing technological sophistication of Local Government is enabling it to handle this type of task more efficiently.

    Whilst the absence of either appropriate staff or appropriate technology can act as major constraints on effective recreation planning, the greatest potential impediment is the attitudes of those whose decisions play the major role in determining the eventual patterns of resource allocation. It is largely because of attitudes such as these that the leisure product being 'sold' by Local Government is peripheral to the needs of most people. The money available is not sufficient to adequately cater for new needs without substantial rationalisation of existing services. However any redistribution is strongly resisted by the vested interests and their political allies.

    As a community in a period of financial restraint we cannot afford the legacy of grand traditions. We cannot afford to prop up the good old days forever. The key to getting back on the rails begins with the adoption of more goal-oriented service provision. Workers in Local Government need to ask themselves "why are we doing this", and not simply rely on the fact that being a traditional function alone is adequate enough justification for continuation of the same. The goal of 'doing what we've always done' is certainly no longer a valid one.

    Largely for political reasons Local Government can never truly emulate a private enterprise operation. It can however mimic it to a much larger degree than it has in the past. This is seen as essential in the case of the Parks and Recreation service provided by Councils. Thus Recreation Planning can be equated with marketing, an important component of which is market research. Only if approached in this light will this service rise above the level of inefficient tokenism and begin to make a significant contribution to the well-being of all within the community.

    Around the time of the 'Life - Be in it' campaign launch there was a well-publicised view of Australians as sedentary slobs. Yet whilst football clubs may be struggling now to attract sufficient players, the Randwick survey and others like it demonstrate that there is substantial participation in a range of healthful activities. That this is the case is probably more in spite of the contribution of Local Government, than because of it. One can only speculate over the potential for the boom in participation in a whole range of activities that might occur if all Councils were to provide a more relevant Parks and Recreation service.


    Gibran, K. 1923. The Prophet, London:Heinemann

    Marriott, K. 1980. Traditional Approaches to Urban Recreation Planning: A Review and Critique. In Recreation Planning and Social Change in Urban Australia, Mercer, D. and Hamilton-Smith, E. (eds), Melbourne: Sorrett.

    Further details regarding the survey programme at Randwick can be found in:

    Bickerstaff, B. 1987. The Real Costs of Data Collection. In Leisure Demand Surveys: Uses and Abuses in Management Parsonson, R. (ed), Sydney: Centre for Leisure and Tourism Studies, Kuring-gai C.A.E.

    McNair Anderson Associates Pty. Ltd. 1986. Summary Report - A Survey of Recreational Needs in the Randwick Municipality JN: 3768, Sydney.

    The author of this paper can be contacted at bruceb_is@lycos dot com

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