This was the question that the Rotorua Lakes Council Sports Development Manager, Steve Watene, was unable to answer at the Springfield Community Conversation on 19 April 2021. The question received a round of applause from the audience.
It was a very good question posed by Krissie Phipps (nee Smallbone). How is it that the Sports Development Manager, of all people, wants to destroy what may be the only financially viable, self-funding, unsubsided sporting facility in Rotorua?
As recorded in the video captured by the Rotorua Daily Post, Watene’s response that “Council is not in the business of destroying one sports club for another” was met with derision. With one voice the audience erupted in spontaneous laughter because, quite obviously, the Council is talking about doing exactly that.
Standing alone, with his credibility melting away, Watene protested “this is only a proposal”. Again, the audience laughed out loud. They didn’t believe him. As Springfield resident Dee Dee Kusabs said later in the meeting, this “does not pass the sniff test”. Councilor Kumar memorably described it as “Council propaganda”. Another audience member later rhetorically asked “Do they take us for fools?”. “Bullshit on stilts” said another.
Sorry Mr Watene, the people don’t believe you. The plans appear to be too well developed for this to be “only a proposal”. The Council has demonstrated it is fully committed to making this happen. They have already invested over $162,000 as at 31 March 2020. As Vice President of Springfield Golf Club Gary Herbert pointed out, the Council’s “Master Plan” is entitled Westbrook Sport and Recreation Precinct Master Plan. The word “proposal” is conspicuous by it’s absence. Ominously the filename of the Master Plan provided by Council adds the words “(Final)” to the title.
Even if this was just a “proposal”, it still doesn’t answer the basic question. Why even propose destroying one sports facility for another? To the overwhelming majority of residents of Rotorua that we have spoken to this proposal makes no sense at all. The Council would be spending a great deal of money for a much less appealing outcome. To borrow the words of Deputy Mayor Dave Donaldson, Springfield already is “a great place to live, work, play & invest”. It has been for at least 70 years. Why be the generation that screws that up now?
The justification offered by Watene is that other sports fields across town, including Neil Hunt Park, Puarenga Park & Kuirau Park are substandard. His solution? Instead of the Council investing in those parks we instead need to destroy the small forest that is the Springfield Golf Course and build new sports fields there instead. As I believe Mr Watene well knows, but denies, those parks are deteriorating because the Council stopped spending any money on maintaining them. So the Council are trying to justify building new fields on the golf course because the Council has let the other fields deteriorate. Why should the ratepayers pay for nice new sports fields in Springfield when the Council didn’t look after the ones it already has?
A Feasibility Study, prepared by the New Zealand Sports Turf Institute, demonstrates the Council should invest in those parks rather than condemning them:
Neil Hunt Park – Summary
The presence of sawdust and other mill debris means the surface levels and infrastructure on the football fields
are prone to movement over time. Given the No.1 football fields has not been levelled since at least 2000 and
the other fields never, movement is comparatively slow.
Resurfacing the fields would provide immediate increase in use over summer and improved satisfaction by
Increasing maintenance (fertiliser, aeration, worm control) will improve winter playing experience and if closure
occurs, increased winter use. It is expected maintenance will slightly increase potential for winter use.
Installing slit drainage/sanding would improve predictability of use over winter, playing experience for users
and hours use (where fields are closed over winter).
Sand carpet/irrigation are an option, but the moving profile is a risk to infrastructure (NZSTI report 2017).
Irrigation would increase potential use capacity over summer, whilst sand would increase predictability of use/
level of winter use (where venue is closed over winter).
Just hazarding a guess, this might be a cheaper option for the long-suffering ratepayers of Rotorua than chopping all the trees down at Springfield, digging down half a metre, pulling up all the roots, importing fill and dirt and installing brand new fields. Oh and Rotorua United Football Club and Eastern Pirates Sports Club would get to keep their nice clubrooms, their club history, club culture, autonomy & the revenue stream from their bar. The traffic can be shared around town instead of creating a bottleneck around the Devon St roundabout. Oh and, the golfers get to keep their golf course and the residents & ratepayers get to keep their beloved greenspace.
This “proposal” does not stand scrutiny. At face value, it makes absolutely no sense at all. The only rational explanation is the Council has ulterior motives they are not telling us about. The destruction of one sport facility for another cannot be justified on the basis of what the Council is telling us.
The real question now is: What are the Council’s real motives? Whatever they are it doesn’t appear to be what’s best for Rotorua.
By Robert Lee