A shortage of playing fields for active Bay of Islands youth and homeless sports codes could soon be over thanks to the purchase of an almost 50ha block of land at Waipapa.
The Far North District Council announced on Monday it had purchased a dry stock farm on State Highway 10, opposite the Waipapa retail area, for $4,975,000.
The council considered three options before settling on the Waipapa site because it was flat, close to existing sports facilities and had good vehicle access. The purchase was finalised on May 1.
Far North Mayor John Carter said a need for more sportsfields was identified as far back as 2012 and the council had set aside funding for new facilities in its 2015-25 Long-Term Plan.
That need had only grown since due to rapid population growth in Kerikeri and Waipapa, with a report last year by consulting firm Global Leisure Group recommending at least 10ha of new fields to accommodate the many sporting codes competing for space.
Carter said the council was now working with Bay of Islands sporting codes to design layouts for the fields and changing facilities.
The new sportsfields would need to be ready ''sooner rather than later'', Carter said.
Councillors Ann Court, Rachel Smith and David Clendon, and James Coleman of the Northern Football Federation (NFF) had worked hard to get the plan across the line, he said.
While the new facility is not aimed at any particular sports code, football in particular is under huge pressure with burgeoning numbers of youth players and just 2 and a half fields at the BaySport complex in Waipapa.
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Other codes in dire need of space include rugby league, which has been using Kerikeri Domain and the now demolished pavilion, and cricket, which uses Kerikeri High School fields. Gymnastics is based in temporary facilities off Mill Lane while hockey players have to travel to Kaikohe or Whangārei.
NFF Far North area manager James Coleman said even in 2011, when the search for more space began, Kerikeri Football Club was short of five playing fields. It was now the biggest football club in Northland with close to 500 members.
The council had made it clear it wouldn't fund a facility for one sports code but finding other clubs in need of space wasn't hard.
''There's no end of codes crying out for facilities to play at,'' he said.
In 2016 the council had agreed to buy another piece of land on SH10 but that deal fell over due to transport regulations, forcing the plan back to square one.
''Now, after almost 10 years, we've finally got a piece of land we can work with. It has the potential to be not just a sports hub but a hub for the whole community,'' Coleman said.
The first phase would involve building five full-size football fields, some with floodlighting, along with parking and ablution blocks. The council had set aside $1.5m within the next two years.
The next phase could involve facilities for gymnastics, cricket, rugby league and hockey.
The new hub would open up opportunities for regional sports events in the Bay of Islands so players wouldn't always have to travel to Whangārei or further afield. That would also bring economic benefits, Coleman said.
Councillor Rachel Smith said the land offered plenty of space for future-proofing, not just for sports but other community needs as well.
Development of the new sportsfields would be community-led like the Te Hiku sports hub project in Kaitaia.
The chosen site stood out from other shortlisted options on Waipapa Rd and SH10 because it was well connected by road and footpaths, close to other facilities, mostly flat and not prone to flooding.
Not all of the 46.77ha property will be needed for new sportsfields. The council is considering how to best use the rest of the land.