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A message from the Minister for Sport and Recreation

Public parklands are wonderful places for social interaction, recreation, leisure, sporting activity, exercise, rest and relaxation.

It’s important that all communities have equal access to good quality parkland that creates a sense of place and enhances feelings of social attachment and cohesion, identity and belonging.

Good quality parklands are valuable community assets that require well-considered planning, design and management to achieve optimal levels of amenity and functional performance. While initial establishment costs may be high, the long-term return to today and tomorrow’s communities is beyond measure.

To achieve this it’s important to:

  • Plan and design more diverse, well-distributed, well-connected parkland that meets different community needs, provides spaces suited for different purposes and functions and encourages higher levels of usage and positive social interaction for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Adopt planning and design practices that recognise the value of local biodiversity, including existing bushland and wetlands and enhance and protect natural ecosystems.
  • Adopt sustainability principles within parkland planning and design to ensure efficient use and protection of water resources.

In Western Australia, a growing population is increasing demand for access to good quality parklands. At the same time, climatic trends are resulting in lower allocations of water resources being made available to irrigate new and existing public parklands.

These guidelines consider challenges and opportunities unique to Western Australia and offer good practice planning and design principles and case studies to assist in the creation and care of our parkland assets.

A message from the Minister for Water

Providing the water necessary to support the development and maintenance of parklands for community sport and recreation is an important focus for the State Government.

In the State’s south west, the drying climate and rising population means we are conscious of the need to effectively identify and share groundwater to meet community needs.

In dryland areas of regional Western Australia, parklands irrigated with treated wastewater and harvested stormwater have been integral in maintaining our outdoor lifestyle and amenity over many years.

These communities have shown the way and we are embracing innovation in all parts of the State to continue to supply the water that’s needed for these important public spaces.

We are investigating new water sources and how we can use our existing water resources to create the right number of high quality parklands across our communities, particularly in some of our newer urban neighbourhoods.

We are rethinking our approach to parkland planning and design and the options available for water sources, storage, irrigation systems and landscaping.

The Department of Water and the Department of Sport and Recreation have collaborated with turf industries, planners, urban designers and local governments to develop a guide which responds to the unique challenges in meeting Western Australia’s parkland in the 21st century.

This guide provides valuable information on water sensitive urban designed communities that match water use to levels of activity, including the environmental benefits that parklands provide.

Through good planning, sensitive design and appropriate management, we should be able to create parklands which are attractive, adaptable, accessible and resilient, whilst making the best use of the available water.

Cooperation and collaboration are essential as we move forward. It’s only by working together that we can continue to provide quality parklands supported by sustainable water sources in which our community can relax, interact, rest and play.


Why parklands are important

Our parklands are important community assets that help keep us healthy, active and socially connected. To maintain these valuable assets, it is important that parklands being planned now continue to meet the needs of current and future generations through user-focused, sustainable design and efficient use of our water resources.

Public parkland enhances urban amenity and provides landscapes that can positively impact community health and social connectivity, biodiversity, local water quality and water management, air quality and mitigation of the urban heat island effect.

Parkland refers to land that has been reserved for the purpose of formal and informal sport and recreation and/or preservation of natural environments such as bushland, wetlands, river and coastal foreshore systems.
Public parklands include places with conservation and heritage value, and natural landscape features that can engender a unique sense of place. Parkland for sport and recreation may include sporting fields and physical activity spaces; open areas with picnic, playground and barbeque facilities; and quiet places to rest and reflect.

In order to achieve community benefits, it is important that all those involved in parkland planning and design understand the common functions of parklands within urban and regional areas. 

Various parkland functions that must be considered during all stages of parkland provision include:

  • Sport and recreation: providing for a range of formal (organised sport and structured activity) and informal (exercise, play and socialising) recreation activities;
  • Culture and heritage: preserving places with significant heritage or cultural connections (both colonial and Aboriginal);
  • Environmental conservation: protecting wildlife habitat and maintaining ecological linkages;
  • Landscape and buffer zones: enhancing the visual appeal of urban landscapes, providing green buffers and softening of the built environment;
  • Physical linkages: linking larger areas of open space, natural features and community facilities through walkable corridors and greenways;
  • Environmental quality: ameliorating the impact of urban heat island effect and improving air quality; and
  • Water quality: filtering stormwater and run-off and providing buffer zones for watercourses and wetlands.

Water Supply – Constraint or an opportunity for innovation?

Most parkland in Western Australia is currently irrigated by groundwater. Groundwater has historically been regarded as an abundant resource, conveniently located just beneath the surface, easily tapped to keep our parklands green year-round.

Water is an increasingly scarce resource across the South West of Western Australia, with rainfall, groundwater-recharge and dam inflow all declining markedly since the mid-1970s. This has coincided with growth in urban development, population and demand for water, including for irrigation of public parkland. It is essential that consideration of alternative water sources and maximum efficiency of water use is incorporated into parkland planning and design.
Therefore, this guide to good parkland planning and design encourages consideration of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) principles, fit-for-purpose water sources and efficient water use, while maintaining high levels of parkland function and usability.

Purpose of this guide

This guide is intended to inform those working in planning and design about principles and practices to assist in achieving parkland that:

  • meets user needs;
  • optimises community benefits;
  • augments existing landscape features;
  • suits the local environment; and
  • supports sustainable water use.

This guide may be used as a reference point for discussion between planners, developers, designers and associated agencies and authorities throughout the planning and development process. Addressing issues relating to planning, design and diversity of public parklands will ensure optimal provision that meets community needs into the future.

It is envisaged that use of this guide will assist to:

  • ensure that parkland can adequately meet the functional needs of the community;
  • promote greater industry knowledge and understanding through multi-disciplinary approaches to collaborative decision making;
  • encourage and support integrated planning and policy development at all levels; and
  • focus planning and design on end-user experience.

It is expected that this guide will be relevant to:

  • officers from state and local government departments and agencies engaged in parks planning and management, park operations and irrigation design; environmental planning and management; community development and engagement; engineering; water management; local area planning; and
  • individuals and organisations involved in residential development, planning and design.

How to use this guide

This guide is presented in three sections.

  1. Land and water use planning in Western Australia outlines the different stages of land and water use planning and how this relates to parkland planning.
  2. Parkland planning outlines objectives, guiding principles and critical considerations in land allocation and water planning to meet community needs and ensure best use of water resources.
  3. Parkland design outlines objectives, guiding principles and critical considerations to enhance parkland usability and function and create sustainable, water-efficient sport, recreation and nature spaces.

Case studies are included in planning and design sections and provide examples of how key aspects described within this document have been applied effectively in Western Australia.

A list of relevant policies, strategies, guidelines and other resources is also included at the end of this document.

Objectives and principles

Planning objective

To ensure optimal allocation of land and water resources to provide a well-distributed and connected suite of parklands that can be adapted to meet changes in social and environmental conditions.

Guiding principles

  • Determine range of potential functions and allocate appropriate parkland area.
  • Plan parklands as a suite of multi‑functional open spaces accommodating sport, recreation and nature spaces.
  • Plan for conservation, protection and enhancement of local landforms, ecological systems, cultural assets and heritage sites.
  • Plan for water allocation and access to fit-for-purpose water sources.
  • Apply collaborative, integrated, multi-disciplinary planning processes to inform decision making.
  • Challenge planning frameworks as necessary to ensure optimal provision of parkland types and functions.

Design objective

To ensure access to high quality, well-activated, sustainable parkland systems that meet diverse community needs and expectations.

Guiding principles

  • Start with consideration of parkland function and end-user needs.
  • Develop multiple-use parklands and balance provision of sport, recreation and nature spaces.
  • Integrate and enhance existing landscape and geographic features in site design.
  • Ensure human activity interacts positively with natural processes.
  • Ensure stormwater management infrastructure and other utility areas are well-placed.
  • Ensure maintenance requirements are considered and integrated into the initial design process.
  • Make efficient use of local resources and materials.

Parkland classification

Public open space (parkland) is often defined in hierarchical terms using criteria related to size. Within many parkland hierarchies, areas for structured, organised sport have traditionally been described as “active open space”, with “passive open space” used to describe areas for recreation and more informal activity. This criteria and terminology is now generally regarded as inadequate and confusing.

To counter this, a cross-industry classification framework based on agreed terminology was developed by the Department of Sport and Recreation.

Within the Classification Framework for Public Open Space, different types of parkland are categorised by primary function: recreation, sport and nature space; and by expected catchment: local, neighbourhood, district or regional open space.

Descriptions of primary function comprise:

  • Recreation space
    • Provides a setting for informal play and physical activity, relaxation and social interaction.
    • Includes open parkland and gardens, community gardens, corridor links, amenity spaces, community use facilities, civic commons or squares.
  • Sport space
    • Provides a setting for formal structured sporting activities.
    • Includes playing surfaces, buffer zones and supporting infrastructure such as clubrooms.
  • Nature space
    • Provides a setting where people can enjoy nearby nature.
    • Includes sites managed to encourage recreational access while protecting local ecological and biodiversity values.

Catchment category descriptions are based on expected purpose, typical size and how far a user might travel from their home to visit parkland, and include:

  • Local Open Space
    • Usually small parklands that service the recreation needs of nearby residents.
    • 0.4ha to 1ha in size and within 400 metres or a 5 minute walk.
  • Neighbourhood Open Space
    • Usually provide a variety of features and facilities with opportunities to socialise.
    • 1ha to 5ha in size and within 800 metres or a 10 minute walk.
  • District Open Space
    • Usually designed to provide for organised formal sport and inclusion of substantial recreation and nature space
    • 5ha to 15ha in size and within 2 kilometres or a 5 minute drive.

Larger areas of Regional Open Space are expected to serve one or more geographical or social regions and attract visitors from outside any one local government (LG) area. Size will be variable and dependent on function. When sport space is identified as a necessary regional function, land allocations for playing fields and sports facilities are expected to be upwards of 20 hectares in area.

Classification framework for public open space


This resource has been developed by the Department of Sport and Recreation and the Department of Water, with financial assistance from the Western Australian Planning Commission.

The Department of Sport and Recreation and Department of Water would like to acknowledge the contribution of AECOM and PlaceScape.


This document has been published by the Department of Sport and Recreation. Any representation, statement, opinion or advice expressed or implied in this publication is made in good faith and on the basis that the government, its employees and agents are not liable for any damage or loss whatsoever which may occur as a result of action taken or not taken, as the case may be, in respect of any representation, statement, opinion or advice referred to herein. Professional advice should be obtained before applying the information contained in this document to particular circumstances.

© State of Western Australia
Published by the
Department of Sport and Recreation
Published March 2014

Suggested Citation

Government of Western Australia. (2014). Public Parkland Planning and Design Guide WA. Perth Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation.


Page reviewed 11 September 2023