Whangārei's sport teams will soon outgrow their home turfs due to Northland's booming population, a recent study has shown.
To keep up with demand, Whangārei District Council will have to invest in at least six new sports fields in the next 10 years.
Council manager for parks and recreation Sue Hodge said the study showed the need for a new sports field and facility complex, similar to Kensington Park.
Improvement of existing fields, such as installing floodlights, was also required.
"The study says that although we technically have sufficient capacity, coaches and players don't use our sports fields midweek during the day as they are working," Hodge said.
"To improve accessibility we need more floodlights so players and coaches can hold midweek training after work."
While funding is already earmarked for some of these improvements in the council's current Long Term Plan, others will still need to be added.
There are currently 18 rugby clubs, 10 rugby league clubs and 12 football clubs in the Whangārei district, using around 90 full-sized sports fields.
The study calculated how many hours of training and games the current number of clubs and teams require and how many will be needed according to population growth projections.
It showed that Whangārei city alone will be 115 hours short, which is the equivalent of six floodlit sand fields.
The council has not yet said where a new sports field complex could be built to meet this demand.
Hodge said project locations the council had identified as high-priority but lacking funding at the moment include Ngunguru, where capacity improvements are needed both midweek and on weekends; and Tikipunga, which needs training lights on either the rugby or league field because it's used as a midweek training venue for out-of-town teams.
Ruakākā will also need floodlights as their two new fields will still not cover midweek training requirements.
At the Waipū sports field, drainage has to be used at full capacity and although the field isn't council-owned, WDC engages with the community to support it.
Football demands the greatest number of hours with 342, followed by rugby with 186 and league with 88 hours.
The study also suggests reallocating fields between codes to use space efficiently.
Projections indicate that in theory there would be enough space for all football clubs in the next decade if all the district's sports fields are regarded as a network.
However, activity is currently concentrated on a relatively small number of parks and nights of the week.
Kamo will have a significant surplus across all codes whereas Waipū, Ruakākā, Ngunguru, Hikurangi, Tikipunga and Whangārei city are particularly short of sports fields.
Meanwhile, some of Whangārei's football clubs are more worried about the state of their existing pitches.
FC Whangārei president Tom Hudson says ground maintenance was "always an issue".
"It's pathetic that we have to wait months to get trees trimmed and the fence fixed," Hudson said.
A particularly upsetting incident saw FC Whangārei hosting a Chatham Cup game at their home turf, Morningside Park, at the start of the year which was "poorly serviced" when players turned up on the day.
"I don't know why it should be a fight between clubs and council to get anything done. There seems to be no schedule for the maintenance, which is very irritating."
Morningside Park is one of the few soil-based fields in the district and prone to flooding, which severely damaged the clubrooms in the past.
Brad Flower, grounds manager at Kamo Soccer Club, also mentioned groundskeeping as an issue, saying while the council "built really good facilities, they are not good at maintaining them".
The standard of mowing and weeding the pitches was "variable", however they were better off than others, Flowers said.
With 300 players and only one of their two fields currently floodlit, the club sometimes struggled to juggle teams' training sessions.
Northern Regional Football (NFF) area manager Dave Alabaster liaises between the council and clubs and says NFF was "really happy" with what's been happening in terms of sports field improvements.
He said issues the clubs mentioned were "isolated situations" and the council would invest into a different club and their turf each year.
The council has recently put some of its recreational services funding into upgrading training facilities for the Women's Rugby World Cup.
Alabaster said the world cup plus Covid meant the council might have done less maintenance work over this last summer than usual.
"The clubs are a bit grumpy and understandably so. But recreational services are working hard to catch up."
Hodge added that managing club expectations was always challenging.
Both the Kaipara and Far North District councils have committed to conducting similar demand studies to address potential shortfalls of sports field space and target the improvements to existing turfs.
In their 2021 Spaces and Places plans, both councils listed a set of recommendations to improve sports facilities in the meantime.
The Kaipara council posited working with clubs and recreation groups "to create a prioritised programme of amenity facility enhancements at key sport and recreation sites across the district".
Many facilities such as toilets, changing rooms and storage facilities were in poor condition.
Other short-term improvements included upgrading the football floodlights and installing new lights at the rugby league fields at Northern Wairoa Memorial Park and improving the facilities at the Mangawhai Domain including playing field quality and sports field lighting to increase the hours of use.
In the Far North, most football training and competition occurs on school land. The council intends to formalise partnerships with schools in the Far North to secure long-term field access.
Far North District Council signalled that community support may be required for maintenance and upgrades to school fields, including lighting.
Further, the lease of Bledisloe Domain is due to end in 2026 and the council is looking for an alternative future location for the Paihia Football Club and other Domain users.
Simson Park Rugby and League field lighting got an upgrade last year, however more improvements to league facilities are needed.
Upgrades for the Kaitaia City Rugby Club, the Taiamai Ohaeawai Rugby Football and Sports Club, the Maungaturoto Country Club and Ruawai Sports Ground are also on the cards.
Kensington parking woes
Recent discussions on a Whangārei Facebook community page indicated widespread frustration among families around the lack of parking space near Kensington on Saturday mornings during peak game times.
Wendy Giffin, who can't walk far due to mobility issues, sometimes takes her granddaughter to her netball games and said it was "hectic" on Saturday mornings.
Finding a park, especially close to the pitch could take a long time.
Others chimed in on Giffin's post on social media saying it was frustrating to find parking.
Solutions by community members included carpooling and re-arranging the game schedules so not all codes play at once.
Whangārei District Council's parks and recreation manager Sue Hodge agreed that parking at Kensington Park on Saturday mornings was difficult.
"For this reason council has invested in links to the Kamo Shared Path to make it easier to walk or cycle to the park.
"Any future expansion will need to take into account the impacts on traffic and parking."
This was one of the reasons a new sports hub is planned as the council can't continue to intensify the use of Kensington Park.
"Netball has also recognised this peak time for parking and has scheduled some games mid-week for juniors and Friday night," Hodge added.
She also noted there are bus stops along Kamo Rd within walking distance of the sports fields.
Hodge said those who can walk, cycle or take the bus could help the community by doing so and freeing up car parks for others.