The Hastings sports park passed its final legal hurdle this week, winning the approval of the Environment Court.
Unfortunately, its finest hour might have been in the courtroom.
Time will tell whether this Council enterprise fares better than Splash Planet. And let’s be clear, the sports park is a Council enterprise, despite the fancy legal footwork. When the park needs “unexpected” long term subsidy, as many of us fear it will, its managers will come knocking on the door of Hastings Council — i.e. Hastings’ ratepayers.
If external funding indeed permits the park to go forward, a few myths will probably persist …
1. That it’s a regional sports park. Reality: it won’t be “regionally” funded. Ask the Napier City Council!
2. That its legal opponents — in particular the Land Protection Society — were frivolous in their objections. Reality: Ironically, the next day, independent commissioners turned down the application from Bunnings for a megastore just down the road from the sports park. Why? In part because it would eat up valuable Heretaunga Plains soil.
3. That overwhelming public support exists for this initiative (as evidenced, sponsors claim, by the referendum results on Nelson Park). Reality: First, people voted against having a mega-store out on the Plains, not for a mega-sports complex. Second, support for the sports complex has come from a limited base — those organised sporting codes But not all within them) who will directly benefit. Support has not been evidenced from the broader community, for example, from the two fastest growing segments of the community over the next twenty-five years — senior citizens and Maori. Very few of whom are going to spend much time in the velodrome or on the athletic field.
4. That because the appeal was from a bunch of frivolous nutters, as a variety of park sponsors have claimed, the appellants to the Environment Court should be required to pay the Council’s costs in defending against the appeal. Reality: Far from considering the Land Protection Society a nuisance party, the Environment Court has indicated that HDC should not pursue costs. Moreover, the Society received financial support from MfE’s Legal Assistance Fund, attesting to the credibility of their appeal. The Land Protection Society exercised its rights in a reasonable and responsible manner.
If the Council wants to recover “wasted” ratepayer money, it might consider starting with Kelt Capital’s $600,000+ in fees.
5. That an oft-promised three phase approach to committing funds and building the complex will be honoured. Reality: The Council and Sports Trust are already aiming to leapfrog the expensive, elite-oriented velodrome ahead of the public sports grounds (i.e., netball, tennis). And no longer is it Hastings’ destiny to host the North Island’s only velodrome … now we find there are two competitors, one of them Auckland!
6. That the sports park will cure laziness and obesity amongst our region’s population, especially our youth — the much-touted social benefit. Reality: Fat chance! Certainly not better than an investment in play, fitness and sporting facilities dispersed throughout the entire community — and more accessible to it.
Although it has been anointed with Environment Court holy oils, the sports park doesn’t smell any better this week than it has over the last year of debate.
But now it has been given the legal greenlight to proceed.
On that basis, whichever pieces of it wind up getting built, we can only hope they are successful. And we should now seek to achieve our land protection goals through the process of the Heretaunga Plains Urban Development Strategy. More on its status next week.