Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Troubled high performance centre hits yet another snag with council

Sport NZ boss Peter Miskimmin wrote to the Auckland Council late last year seeking a continuation of the funding support for the centre. Photo / Photosport
Sport NZ boss Peter Miskimmin wrote to the Auckland Council late last year seeking a continuation of the funding support for the centre. Photo / Photosport

The troubled Yachting New Zealand high performance centre has hit another hurdle, with the national body likely to have to reapply for funding from the Auckland Council.

The Council's finance and performance committee met this week to consider an application to hold over the $3 million in funding it committed to the project nearly seven years ago.

The previous agreement between the former North Shore City Council and the Harbour Access Trust, the body that was originally managing the project on Yachting NZ's behalf, lapsed after plans to build the facility on Takapuna Beach reserve land were abandoned in July last year.

Sport NZ boss Peter Miskimmin wrote to the Auckland Council late last year seeking a continuation of the funding support for the centre and the establishment of a new relationship agreement.

However, with Yachting NZ yet to confirm a new site for the facility, the committee were reluctant to proffer their on-going financial support.

The committee moved instead to "defer the item until such time as a formal proposal including business case is received".

Auckland mayor Phil Goff expressed confusion as to why the committee was being asked to vote on resolutions when the location of the facility was still unknown.

"We as a council need to act in a logical way. Before we approve something, we need to know what we're approving and at the moment none of us have any idea what we're approving," he said.

When the plans for the $8.5m development, originally named the National Ocean Water Sports Centre, were first unveiled in 2010, Sport NZ committed $3m to the project, while the former North Shore City Council pledged the same amount. The council money remained ring-fenced for the project after the Super City merger in late 2010.

The facility proved controversial from the outset, with community groups railing against attempts to close down the popular Takapuna Beach Holiday Park - the site for which the high performance centre was planned. The project was finally scuppered in July last year, after four years of protracted battles with the local community board - a process which cost Sport NZ $800,000.

"We need to act in a logical way. Before we approve something, we need to know what we're approving. "
Auckland mayor Phil Goff

With Yachting NZ now looking at alternative sites in Gulf Harbour, several councillors who spoke at Tuesday's meeting advocated that the $3m, buried somewhere in the council books, should be returned to the North Shore community for legacy projects, as was initially intended.

"When a new proposal comes along [from Yachting NZ] that needs to be considered afresh and we will need to appropriate funding [from another source] if that proposal is deemed to be a strong one," said Daniel Newman, councillor for the Manurewa-Papakura ward.

Yachting NZ chief executive David Abercrombie said without local government funding, the project is likely dead in the water.

"If we lose the council's $3m then we would be hamstrung in going ahead in developing a facility. It's a critical component to what we're trying to do."

None of committee members expressed any opposition to the idea of funding the centre in principle, but given the fraught history of the project, there were warnings to proceed with caution.

"This has been quite ruinous on the Takapuna community," said Chris Darby, councillor for the North Shore ward. "I'm coming to this like the next time I want to get this squeaky clean. I can't support the resolutions, because ... there are deficiencies here.

"There is just a whole history here of lack of transparency. We have to offer it to Auckland and get our ducks in a row going forward. I am not opposed to supporting a high performance centre somewhere in Auckland, with a community component. But we need to do our business well otherwise we are open to going down that ruinous path that this whole episode has seen this sorry side of for some seven years now."

- NZ Herald

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