"How dare you."
That's how the leader of a group created to save Rotorua's Springfield Golf Club stared down the council at a sometimes rowdy community meeting on Monday evening.
The meeting, to discuss the proposed Westbrook Sports and Recreation Precinct, attracted about 150 members of the public, several councillors and the mayor.
It also saw one councillor accusing the council of "propaganda" surrounding the proposal.
The proposal, if approved, would see the 70-year-old golf course, on leased council land, made into a combination of sports fields and housing.
Council staff at the meeting emphasised the proposal was only a proposal and was not predetermined and would undergo community consultation before any decisions were made.
The proposal had triggered a petition that as of Monday night was approaching 5000 signatures, according to its leader, Robert Lee.
At the meeting, Facebook group Saving Springfield Golf Course founder Dee Dee Kusabs said she would invoke the words of the "great young climate activist" Greta Thunberg.
"How dare you. How dare you hatch such a despicable proposal. How dare you even consider the destruction of this taonga. How dare you conspire to obliterate any of these important oxygen-giving 70-year-old heritage trees.
"How dare you jeopardise the physical, mental, financial and spiritual wellbeing of the people of Rotorua.
"To our mayor and councillors I would say be honourable, be worthy, be truthful, be trustworthy, be kind, be honest and mostly beware. We have woken up.
"This proposal does not pass the sniff test."
Rotorua Lakes Council sports development manager Steve Watene told the gathering the proposal was not just about sport but about "creating a recreation precinct".
"This is about something that has been proposed. There hasn't been a decision made on this yet. It's important we have some of these conversations now."
It was the first of many times Watene reminded the crowd the proposal was only a proposal, later in the evening stating: "remember, what we're talking about is a proposal, a proposal only, it hasn't been decided, it's not predetermined, we will be ensuring we go to the community and consult with the community before we move forward."
Watene said the proposal was "about our sports fields, about our kids" and trying to provide quality facilities for them.
He said sports fields and facilities were not up to standard, based on a council analysis in 2018 that found many of Rotorua's sports fields were of an "unacceptable quality".
He said the council was considering all options to combat the issue.
His assertion, in response to a question from the crowd, that the council was "not in the business of destroying one sports club for another", was met with laughter and jeers from the crowd.
One punter called on councillors to address the meeting "rather than letting staff take the flak".
Councillors Merepeka Raukawa-Tait and Raj Kumar appeared to offer, before Kumar, a Springfield resident, stood before the mic.
"Welcome to the talk show tonight," he said.
"When I was coming here tonight, I was hoping to hear some other stories than the propaganda.
"When I was young and I didn't want to go to sleep ... Our granddad used to come over and tell us stories. A lot of them were fairy tales, but they did put us to sleep.
"The point is, don't believe everything you hear. Think for yourself and think for the future of what your community, our community, is going to be about.
"If I am biased, I have been biased for the last six years since I have been in [the] council, fighting to save Springfield. This war began a long time ago."
That statement was met with applause from the crowd.
"I am here not only as a councillor but also as a resident of the community who has not been informed fully.
"I am available any time of the day to save our community, whether it's from flooding or whether it's from any other propaganda. We will save this golf course.
"Please make it known to the other councillors as well, that there's one biased councillor."
Golf player and nearby resident Don Paterson said he woke up from "nightmares of bulldozers".
He said Rotorua should make golfing a tourism drawcard as it had with mountain biking.
"Let's not sell the goose that laid the golden egg," he said.
Springfield resident Robyn Cowley said the "beautiful vista" of her backyard was "under threat".
She had "tossed and turned" about the proposal and had "never-ending anxiety" due to it.
She said she'd considered leaving Rotorua and believed the proposal had "already devalued our family home".
Her adult children loved coming home, she said, but they shared her "pain and concern about our tūrangawaewae".
"This magnificent green space is so much more than a golf course, it is a drawcard for Rotorua.
"I respectfully ask you to listen to what the people are telling you."
Councillor Reynold Macpherson then also spoke, telling the meeting as Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers chairman, his members were "antagonistic" to the proposal.
They had asked him "to campaign remorselessly" so the proposal was dropped.
"They want the lease in 2027 to be renewed about three years in advance so this club can plan its future."
Golf club member Laurie Hill told Local Democracy Reporting the proposal "stinks".
Hill, a member of about 20 years, said the golf course was the best kind "for the average golfer" and it was "more friendly" at Springfield than other golf courses.
After the meeting, Raukawa-Tait told Local Democracy Reporting she was pleased to have gone along to the meeting as she now understood and appreciated the community's concerns.
"I was pleased to hear the invitation extended 'to work together'. Why wouldn't we?
"Just staying behind after the meeting and talking to some of the local residents was very informative."
The council and mayor were invited to provide further comment but declined.
The story so far
The council announced its vision for the Westbrook Sport and Recreation Precinct in March last year.
That proposal would incorporate Westbrook Reserve, Ray Boord Park, Smallbone Park, Rotorua International Stadium, Westbrook netball courts and the Springfield Golf Course.
At the time, the council said Rotorua's sports grounds and facilities were insufficient and incapable of coping with future demand.
The idea was put on ice in May, with the council citing Covid-19 for the delay.
Spokesman Ben Sandford, a former Olympian who ran in 2017 as the Labour candidate for the Rotorua, said there were good ideas in the proposal and it should have been part of the council's 'Build Back Better' strategy.
In March this year, the proposal appeared again as part of documentation for the council's 2021-2031 Long-term Plan, as part of the 10-year capital expenditure programme.
In that document, just over $61 million was earmarked for the project.