Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Pukekohe raceway's the pits, councillor declares after visit

Councillor George Wood took photos of what he called 'poor facilities' at the race track. Photo / Supplied
Councillor George Wood took photos of what he called 'poor facilities' at the race track. Photo / Supplied

The pits are the pits, said councillor George Wood as he surveyed the Pukekohe race track where the V8 Super-cars are set to make a return in April.

The poor condition of the track, toilets housed in a portacom structure, and the badly rundown pit area gave Mr Wood little confidence the $6.6 million budget to upgrade Pukekohe would be enough.

"This seems to be back-of-cigarette-packet planning. It's my view the rebuild of Pukekohe raceway will cost far more than $6.6 million," he said.

With councillors Dick Quax and Calum Penrose, Mr Wood went to Pukekohe and Hampdon Downs on Tuesday for a first-hand look at the two racing venues.

V8 Supercars Australia and the council's events arm have opted for Pukekohe, where V8s raced between 2001 and 2007, rejecting Hampdon Downs, a bit further south in the Waikato off State Highway 1, largely because it is restricted to 20,000 spectators.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) believes Pukekohe best meets the criteria for a major event, gives the biggest economic benefit and has the bonus of rail for public transport.

Last week, the council's strategy and finance committee voted to spend $10.6 million to ensure the V8s return to Pukekohe, including $2.2 million towards the $6.6 million upgrade.

The Government has given a "one-off" grant of $2.2 million and V8 Supercars is paying the rest.

Mr Wood said Hampdon Downs was light years ahead of Pukekohe for quality of facilities, a view shared by Mr Quax, who was surprised at the lack of interest by Ateed.

Hampdon Downs has lodged a resource consent to increase spectator numbers from 20,000 to 50,000.

Greg Mitchell, general manager of Counties Racing Club, which also uses the park, said he could not comment on the state of the Pukekohe raceway or the upgrade.

But V8 Supercars Australia's media spokesman, Cole Hitchcock, was confident the $6.6 million upgrade would bring the track up to necessary safety standards and make it presentable for spectators and the television audience.

Mr Hitchcock said the company ran 16 V8 race events a year and would not have recommended Pukekohe unless it believed it could be brought up to speed with substantial improvements, some cosmetic changes and the addition of infrastructure from Hamilton.

Improvements include new safety barriers and debris fencing, track resurfacing, a new chicane on the back straight, more overhead pedestrian bridges, over-track signs and enhanced viewing areas.

Mr Hitchcock said V8 Supercars was not only spending money on the raceway but was underwriting the entire event at considerable cost.

Mr Quax said that once the council was hooked into upgrading Pukekohe Park it would be hooked in for good. The cost would almost inevitably escalate.

Councillor Cameron Brewer said it was only a matter of time before unforeseen circumstances would require more council money.

Advisory panel sees report, backs V8s

An advisory group of councillors and Franklin Local Board chairman Andy Baker have backed the V8 car race after seeing confidential information withheld from the council committee that approved $10.6 million for the event last week.

A report on the financial position of parties involved and details of the risks were provided by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development to the group, which met on Tuesday.

Last night, strategy and finance committee chairwoman Penny Webster, who heads the advisory group, said: "We have seen all of the relevant material so that ratepayers can have every confidence that Ateed has specifically addressed each of the issues and lessons learned from the Hamilton and Sydney street races to ensure the risk to ratepayers is minimal."

Ateed has publicly stated there is a 40 per cent risk of a cost blow-out at Pukekohe requiring a ratepayer or taxpayer bailout and a 60 per cent chance the event organiser, V8 Supercars Australia, will not meet the spectator target of 130,000.

The advisory group comprises Ms Webster, Mr Baker, council chief executive Doug McKay and councillors Arthur Anae, Chris Fletcher, Alf Filipaina and Des Morrison.

The five councillors all voted for the spending last week and against an amendment to defer a decision until councillors had seen the confidential information.

Councillors Cameron Brewer and George Wood, who voted against the spending, declined an invitation to be part of the advisory group.

- NZ Herald

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