As more and more Australians turn to outdoor group training for their daily dose of exercise, many councils are hitting personal trainers with permit fees of up to $2500 to use local parks.
In February, Sydney's Marrickville Council passed a motion to enforce $900 permit fees for trainers while Manly, Mosman, Leichardt, Woollahra and Canterbury, Canada Bay councils also charge fees. Bondi’s Waverley Council is the dearest, charging up to $2500 to train large groups.
Sydney-based personal trainer Robbie Hardy, owner of Emperor Fitness, told The Huffington Post Australia the permit fees will inevitably flow on to the customer.
“The big issue is many council trainers are training at multiple councils, so if you’re training in four different council areas it adds up to a hell of a lot of money by the end of the year,” Hardy, told HuffPost Australia.
“Some trainers are earning $400 or $500 a week so to hand over $900 in one hit just isn't sustainable for many.”
“I think it's a good thing to charge, but putting an attainable price tag on it would be far better.”
While many trainers speculate councils are capitalising on the latest fitness trend, former town planner Stephen Wearing said the increasing number of disgruntled locals complaining would have sparked council action.
"Historically, parks have always had that problem of conflict," Wearing, now a tourism and leisure management academic at Sydney’s University of Technology (UTS) told HuffPost Australia.
"Sixty to 70 per cent of councils now have some type of permit system, but councils are failing a bit.
"We’re a bit of a nanny state, and we like to tell people what to do. Sometimes it’s only a matter of making a smaller adjustment. There are ways of using that [park] space that minimises the impact."
Limiting group training numbers, training hours and setting guidelines for personal trainers to set up in already noisy areas of parks would more effectively keep all park users happy, said Wearing, who claims a two-way discussion would “let the personal trainer become part of the process and consequently do part of the PR for councils.”
The City of Sydney Council has not introduced permit fees for personal trainers and will introduce a voluntary code of conduct in the coming months. The draft guidelines, provided to the public for feedback, limit training to daylight hours, from 6am onwards and no later than 10pm.
Training groups are limited to 11 people with one trainer and groups required to train away from staircases, public footpaths and "high traffic" areas.
“The draft Fitness Training Code of Conduct balances the needs of outdoor training groups with those of other park users and local residents by encouraging trainers to do the right thing," a City of Sydney spokeswoman told HuffPost Australia.
“The City of Sydney allows fitness groups to train in its parks free of charge to encourage our community to enjoy exercise outdoors."
Susan Thompson, Professor of Planning and Director of the City Wellbeing program at the University of NSW, said exercising in parks kills two birds with one stone for busy office workers.
"Just being able to be in open green space can help to reduce people’s blood pressure, their tension, their stress and particularly in environments where we are overstimulated," Thompson told HuffPost Australia.
While councils have a right to issue permit fees -- as they maintain the public space -- Thompson said the charges are a "blunt instrument to sort out the problem".
"Councils are trying to upgrade urban space, but there comes a point when if you’ve got so many people using a park, no matter how big it is, it won’t be able to cope.
"As we’re getting more and more people in the same space we do have to talk to each other and work out a better way to share the space. How do we respect each other’s desire to use that space in a particular way?"
Robbie Hardy said a public discussion would not only be welcomed by trainers, but would save councils time and money chasing trainers who try to dodge paying fees.
"Good health is such an important thing for the individual and the community. So if councils try to work with trainers, it would become a positive for everyone involved."