More than 20 Perth suburbs have no public sports ovals, prompting experts to warn that a shortage of playing fields in Perth's outer suburbs must be addressed "as a matter of urgency".
An investigation into public open space by the Centre for Sport and Recreation Research and Curtin University has prompted calls for guidelines requiring planners to allocate space for playing fields in future developments and for greater co-operation between schools and sporting groups.
Twelve months after _The Weekend West _ published the initial results of the landmark study, the final report has now been released.
It highlights a shortfall of 170ha of green space - equating to 89 playing ovals - across Perth.
It found the outer suburbs were "significantly worse off" and warned that the "spatial inequality" could create significant socio-economic impacts.
Twenty-one suburbs had no public sporting ovals, including six in Mandurah, three in Armadale and three in Wanneroo.
Report author Curtin University Associate Professor Garry Middle said the fact many new fringe suburbs were worse off was concerning because they tended to attract first-homebuyers, many of whom were young families.
"In the absence of access to active playing fields nearby, parents have to make a tough choice to either travel significant distances to allow their kids to play sport or it becomes just too hard and expensive and the kids miss out on sport," he said. "Residents in these suburbs already suffer from a number of accessibility disadvantages, including to public transport, employment, entertainment, and not having good and easy access to active playing fields adds to their already significant disadvantage."
Professor Middle said added pressure was being placed on existing ovals, forcing some councils such as Melville to investigate replacing pitches with synthetic grass.
He said the availability of sufficient groundwater to supply existing and future playing fields was another major constraint.
The report proposes new planning guidelines, including allocating 1.4 per cent - or 6.5sqm per resident - of active open space in new suburbs.
Professor Middle said green space had declined as an unintended consequence of environmental and water policies, which resulted in more open space being set aside for conservation and water management.
The report discussed the potential for school ovals to be better utilised, and the Department of Sport and Recreation and Department of Education are developing a guide to encourage shared use of community facilities.
WA Primary Principals Association president Stephen Breen said public liability concerns hindered co-operation between schools and sporting groups.
"You've got resources that should be used by the community but the Government, or individual principals, shouldn't be in a position to be sued if someone breaks a leg," he said. Nature Play WA chief Griffin Longley said it was a "tragedy" that some Perth suburbs had no ovals.
"While sporting clubs are one of the greatest drivers of community connection in Australia, ovals are also a place for kids to play, dogs to be walked and communities to get to know each other," he said. Armadale mayor Henry Zelones said the booming population in outer suburbs was impacting on existing facilities.
"It means people living in outer areas have to travel instead of playing locally. Some sports are rapidly growing, like soccer, and (existing grounds) can only absorb so much," he said.
Armadale Soccer Club president Tony Greipl said participation rates were increasing and he expected oval space to become a worsening concern.
"It's the use on the ovals that's the issue, they get worn out," he said. "As we grow it will become an issue because there's so many juniors on board and more and more seniors getting back into the game."