Monday the Hastings Council will conduct a public briefing on the proposed “regional” sports park. Make no mistake, this will not be a consultation … it will be a sales pitch.

Just as the mailing received by every Hastings District resident last week is not a discussion of alternatives and pros and cons, but rather a sales brochure in the style of “Get your oceanfront property now … while it lasts.”

If you are attending the briefing, or if you are planning a submission on the sports park, or if you encounter a Councillor in the next few weeks, here are seven questions you might want to ask:

1. Where’s the money, Sam?

Every Councillor says they will not support any sports park development unless Sam Kelt raises about $40 million in “external funding” for the project. With the fate of the project resting in Sam’s hands, shouldn’t ratepayers be getting regular reports on how the fundraising is going?

Well, we’re not getting such reports … probably because Sam hasn’t raised any money yet … after what, 7-8 months since the Council’s greenlight last September? Plus an additional year since Sam first floated the idea to Council’s delight? You can be sure that if Sam had a firm commitment or two, he and Mayor Yule would be holding a press conference on the front steps of the Council Building today! I’ve been a professional fundraiser. Raising big money is all about momentum … when you’ve got it, you flaunt it!

(HDC has denied BayBuzz access to Kelt Capital’s monthly reports to HDC … we’re at the Ombudsman on that one. HDC is even balking at showing us the contract describing the deliverables ratepayers should get for the $25,000/month we’re paying Kelt Capital … but I digress.)

2. What is the implication for a sports park on the Heretaunga Plains of last month’s Environment Court decision on the Hawke’s Bay Golf Course?

In that decision, the Court overturned the position of HDC, which favored re-development of the golf property. Why? Because it would add to development pressure on the Heretaunga Plains! Given this decision, it’s hard to imagine how the Court could bless the sports park complex. And does anyone doubt that, if the HDC forges ahead, the matter won’t wind up in the Environment Court?

3. Given that massive public investments should be driven by thorough investigation of public needs, what alternatives to a $60+ million sports park have been considered?

Why aren’t these alternatives described, along with their pros and cons, on the HDC website or in the HDC’s propaganda brochure? Why has a recent Council-financed review of recreation and sports needs and facilities, which observed that current facilities are under-utilised, been dismissed as “not relevant?”

4. How will a sports park curb smoking, increase life expectancy or reduce suicide rates?

Health benefits have been touted for the sports park. And surely, sports participation should improve fitness. But do the benefits of sports participation require construction of a $60+ million complex?! If we’re serious about health, we could probably produce more health benefits, at no ratepayer cost, by banning fast food outlets in the region! Building a sports park is a pretty blunt instrument for achieving health outcomes that require far more thorough-going public education and behavior change.

Again, what alternatives were considered for spending millions of dollars to improve health outcomes? Or even merely to encourage fitness through professionally-managed sports programs at upgraded existing facilities?

5. Has there been any peer review of the consultants’ reports which glowingly project the economic impact and ongoing financial solvency of the sports park?

To an informed reader, these reports are full of dubious assumptions. Individuals who have independently checked reported claims about sporting events that would be attracted by the facility, about park utilisation, or about potential “cannibalisation” of existing facilities by a new park, have come away with quite different conclusions.

The Council’s approach to validating its pre-determined outcome via un-reviewed consultants’ reports reflects laziness at best, or manipulation at worst. It’s the same approach that bought us SplashPlanet … an economic embarrassment and a continuing albatross for the ratepayers.

The proposed “regional” sports park feels like SplashPlanet all over again. It’s just that more of us will get more soaked this time around.

6. Exactly who is going to spend, say, $2/liter on fuel (with no upper limit in sight) to drive themselves or their kids out to the “regional” sports park on a routine basis?

Folks from Bayview? Waimarama? Haumoana? Waipawa? Flaxmere? Yeah right! What do you think the price of petrol will be on opening day of the park?

7. Even if a “regional” sports park is the greatest idea since sliced bread, why the hurry to shove this expensive idea down our throats?

Sure, we’re committed to replacing the Nelson Park athletic track. But, by referendum, that’s all we committed to, in large part because we were told the replacement would cost ratepayers nothing. Now, with demolition well underway and the new track under construction, we have yet to bank a penny from our friendly Australian mall developer. One can only hope an economic downturn doesn’t dampen their commitment before they need to put our check in the post!

Meantime, our ratepayers, most of whom will never cycle in the Velodrome (!) or even use a “regional” sports park at all, are more financially strapped than ever. And now, instead of a no-cost replacement facility, they are confronted with a project that will cost them about $20 million … and that’s assuming we get lucky on operating revenues!

The sports park was greenlighted last September during the local election period (subject, of course, to “consultation”). Some cynics have suggested this timing was to avoid any embarrassment of newly-elected skeptical Councillors queering the deal. Since then, the HDC has steamrollered the project ahead … producing flattering consultants reports … even approving advance purchase of all required land just “in case” public consultation — and, of course, Sam’s successful fundraising — enabled the project to proceed.

Why the hurry? My best answer is that the Mayor and Council just can’t stand being second-guessed. And the “regional” sports park is not an idea that looks better with time … especially when burdened ratepayers begin to appreciate the nagging financial questions.

But you know, maybe Mayor Yule has compelling answers to these questions after all. Good on him if he does. I’m all ears.

And maybe Monday evening we’ll be treated to a guest appearance by Sam Kelt himself, presenting the Mayor with one of those gigantically over-sized ceremonial checks representing the park’s first outside investor. I’ll bring my camera just in case!

See you on at the pitch.

Tom

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1 Comment

  1. 'The railway station was a great idea from the Council brain,

    until someone pointed out it didn't fit the train.

    The charette on Ocean Beach seemed the way to go,

    but Council chose to go to bed with Andy Lowe.

    Now the RSP,

    And Council treads familiar ground,

    spending millions on reports and pretty pictures.

    yet no clue where the money will be found'

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