Bruce Bisset: Council racing ahead of itself

The upshot is Hastings is left with a bit of a public facility mess.

FROM the outside, it's hard to know if the grand "park shuffle" that's been going on around Hastings for a decade now is a victim of Mayor Lawrence Yule's big but boxed thinking, or someone else's lack of foresight.

Because it strikes me the plan to move the racecourse and somehow - rather untidily - amalgamate it with the showgrounds is a bit of a grabbed straw rather than anything prudently planned.

Yet a brief look at recent history tells us it shouldn't be.

There are two scenarios: a) the reconfiguration of parks has been done on an ad hoc basis solely in response to circumstance or b) there was a comprehensive plan, but one or more parties stuffed it up for their own reasons.

Either way, the upshot is Hastings is left with a bit of a public facility mess.

See, Nelson Park got sold because of the pressure for big box retail, and the Regional Sports Park was built as a "replacement" facility.

Or half built, should I say, since they haven't yet got round to installing lights for training on the track or soccer fields, let alone the promised gymnasium/indoor courts.

I won't mention the velodrome.

And quite why they're pursuing another "regional" hockey venue (in addition to Park Island) without delivering these elements first is a question no one's answering.

I suspect it's to do with "locking in" another code to a facility struggling to attract enough bodies through the gates because of its out-of-town positioning.

Recall that at the time the racecourse was mooted as a possible sports park location.

Moreover, I'm aware a local landowner offered to donate land outside of town for relocating the race-track. Didn't happen.

Why not? Well, admittedly the new earthquake regulations putting pressure on old stands to get strengthened or replaced has since skewed things, but surely anyone with foresight could see a crisis coming, since the racing industry has been on the slide for some time.

That both race meets and the showgrounds events have had to be propped up with regular injections of public monies is no secret.

How much in the past decade between them, $500,000? More.

So it's possible scenario b) was a real "big picture" plan, but got stymied at the track.

I'll be charitable and say it wasn't because no one wanted to back a major sports project in the midst of a "lower decile" area.

However much more likely these changes are playing out merely on an "as needs" basis. Hastings may be improving in catching up with necessary planning changes, but - provision for big box retail arguably aside - its forward thinking remains hit and miss.

Miss, in this case. So instead another greenspace will go, filled in with medium-density housing.

Assuming there is pressure for affordable housing stock, that has some rationale to it but why is the council suddenly keen to spend $50,000 promoting the race/show cobble-together when it didn't (publicly) do so before?

Could it have something to do with the (failed) bid to build an arterial road from Havelock North? Well, yes, it very well could.

Mayor Yule has flagged renewed need for this as a consequence of taking out part of Elwood Rd to put the facilities together.

Certainly that would provide new and perhaps better arguments for the arterial in court.

Maybe this was all a grand vision that has had to be revised through not much fault of the council.

Or it could simply be reactive convenience masquerading as "community support".

Be nice to know, with an election at hand.


  • Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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