"Once it's gone, you can't get it back."

That's the rallying cry of Ron Pinkham, a Marine Park user opposing Tauranga City Council's move to revoke the reserve status of a section of the park to make way for a new University of Waikato marine research and education centre.

The council proposed leasing the university about 7000sq m - 6 per cent - of the 112,400sq m recreational reserve at Sulphur Point for the multi-million dollar centre, which experts predicted would add tens of millions of dollars to the Bay of Plenty economy.

It was the second piece of council land put forward for the project, and the university's last option to establish the centre within urban Tauranga.

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The proposed location of the research centre. Graphic / Tauranga City Council
The proposed location of the research centre. Graphic / Tauranga City Council

Pinkham said he had no objection to the research centre, only the location.

Marine Park should be kept for the original purpose it was created: a recreational green space for Tauranga's boating and general public, he said.

He said the park was well-used - his headcounts over 30 days averaged 35 users (cyclists, walkers, sitters, fishers, freedom campers) an hour - and should be made more accessible.

"The council has let the people of Tauranga down by not developing this site for recreational use," he said.

He encouraged people to make submissions on the issue and said he was planning a public protest.

The Tauranga Moana Outrigger Canoe Club, based at Sulphur Point, also opposed the proposal, saying Marine Park should be set aside for its original purpose of supporting water-based recreation.

Dave Molloy, owner of Marine Diesel Services on Cross Rd, agreed the reserve was well used and said he was "not too impressed" with the council's plan.

He was concerned about losing green space for a commercial venture.

Graham Cave, owner of Bay Marine on Cross Rd, said he was fine with the research centre provided it did not impact the proposed marina expansion into the reserve, which would benefit the boating public.

An artists' impression of what the facility could look like. Image / supplied
An artists' impression of what the facility could look like. Image / supplied

Waikato University vice-chancellor Alister Jones said there had never been a more important time to invest in science education, with recent news that New Zealand students were falling behind in the subject.

He said the research centre would be of huge benefit to the community.

With live feed cameras in the harbour, education programmes and an aquarium, it would be an interactive educational space for local school students, families and the general public as well as university students.

It would also produce ground-breaking research about the marine environment in Tauranga Harbour and beyond, finding sustainable ways to use marine resources and respond to problems like pollution and climate change.

Jones said the centre would permanently host 20 to 40 post-graduate students, plus staff.

He said the 2400sq m two-storey building would be set back from the water, maintaining a wide public waterfront walking and cycling route.

He said the university had spent three years exploring site options and all others were ruled out. If this fell over the organisation would have to reassess the project and likely look elsewhere, he said.

The project had the support of Bay of Plenty regional councillor John Cronin and Tauranga councillor Max Mason, who both said it would be a huge loss to Tauranga if the university went elsewhere.

Mason said the issue was one playing out across the growing city, where the council had to find a balance between the need to intensify and build new facilities, and the lack of available land.

The Tauranga Fish and Dive Club, which would neighbour the research centre, declined to comment for this story.


Have your say

- Tauranga City Council's proposal to revoke the reserve status of 7000m sq of Marine Park is out for public consultation.
- The deadline for submissions is 5pm on December 14.
- Make a submission attauranga.govt.nz
- If the council decides to go ahead with the revocation, it will have to seek permission from the Department of Conservation.