Brand new sports fields look likely for an Auckland suburb.
The Albert-Eden Local Board will vote this Wednesday on what to do with Fowlds Park in Mt Albert, a ground that was earmarked for an upgrade three years ago.
At that time the proposal was to install artificial turf, a move that was met with staunch opposition from neighbourhood group Friends of Fowlds Park, who lodged an appeal with the Environment Court.
The decision will end a wrangle over that park that has dragged on for years.
A compromise looks as if it will finally be reached in the form of hybrid turf being installed on the park's three fields. Hybrid turf is an artificial carpet which allows real grass to grow through it.
On Wednesday elected members will make a decision based on council officers' recommendations that one of the three fields be upgraded to hybrid turf in the short term, with a view to changing the other two fields to hybrid turf in the long run. Any decision will be subject to consultation.
Board chairman Peter Haynes says he is in favour of the hybrid turf proposal.
"The three [hybrid fields] does give us significantly more play."
Haynes said the local board was the first in New Zealand to bring in hybrid surfaces to its parks, at Nixon Park and Gribblehirst Park.
"To date it's been very successful," he said.
"[The surfaces] are only a few months old but they are standing up to use really well, and it's rained a lot too. So we and the clubs are very pleased with the results.
"It was a bit of a gamble but it seems to be paying off exceedingly well."
Haynes said installing fully artificial turf would require putting fences up, something the local board was "averse to".
"In my view the hybrid surface option for all three fields [at Fowlds Park] has a great deal of appeal.
"The new option means that we don't have to take out trees and we avoided a retaining wall in the middle of the park, which is what some of the neighbours objected to the most."
Haynes said the rapidly increasing population of suburbs in the city-fringe meant upgrading open spaces was a top priority.
"We're going to have all this intensification in our area . . . and it's really about planning for intensification.
"We have a huge shortfall in sports field capacity right now and it's only going to get worse. Even after we've done all these upgrades in 10 years we might be back where we are now.
"So we have the pressure to upgrade our fields and that's why we looked at the full upgrades, but it was never an easy decision."
The hybrid option has also pleased nearby residents, ending what has been a years-long process.
"We're very pleased with the report that's going to the local board," Friends of Fowlds Park spokesman Will McKenzie told the Herald.
"We feel that the report takes into the account the various matters we've raised over the last three years. We will be pleased if the board accepts the officers' recommendations."
McKenzie said residents were opposed to artificial turf being installed at Fowlds Park due to the need for a fence around it.
"We've seen the hybrids in action at Nixon Park and Gribblehirst Park, and we believe that the hybrid surface will be a wonderful asset for the Mt Albert Rugby League Club and the wider community. It's perfect for playing contact sport and for mucking around on when contact sport isn't being played."
Friends of Fowlds Park and the Tree Council lodged appeals to the Environment Court opposing resource consent for the park in 2016. The two groups agreed to court-assisted mediation with Auckland Council.
McKenzie said they were "very satisfied" to reach this point.
"We believe our involvement has led to an outcome that is best for the community as a whole, particularly including sport.
"Their decision on Wednesday will be to choose options to go forward to consult on, so we look forward to consulting with council on those options, because there are tweaks we would like to see altered . . . but overall we agree with the recommendation."
Fowlds Park is home to the Mt Albert Lions rugby league club, and president Mark McLeary said the club had worked with Friends of Fowlds Park.
"They've put a proposal forward for a hybrid situation and from our review of it we're backing that as the best and preferred option.
"The fields themselves just aren't getting used with the weather we're getting here in Auckland, with the usage over summer it's not enough time to replenish the fields and set them up for a full winter sports season."
McLeary said the club was opposed to artificial turf due to the risk of increased injuries.
"The injuries we've heard that have been sustained on the [artificial] fields as well from kids, the [hybrid] upon review is a much better option and a good compromise," he said.
"Also, with training as well especially, the grounds get closed quite a bit during the week with the rain, trying to preserve them for the weekend games."
McLeary said club members had talked to people from other sports organisations that had installed artificial turfs.