"If Springfield doesn't want it, we'll have it."
That's the response from a community advocate from New Zealand's most deprived suburb following backlash against a proposed sport and recreation precinct that could mean the end for Springfield golf course.
It follows an at-times heated meeting at the Springfield Golf clubrooms on Monday night, where members and nearby residents expressed opposition to Rotorua Lakes Council's Westbrook Sport and Recreation Precinct proposal.
On Wednesday, Fordlands Community Centre programme manager Maraea Pomana told Local Democracy Reporting the suburb has been "crying out" for a community hub for decades.
"If Springfield doesn't want it, we'll have it.
"We have open arms to having a sports hub here [in Fordlands]."
Fordlands took the unbidden top position in the University of Auckland's 2018 Index of Multiple Deprivation, which measures socio-economic deprivation based on several factors such as employment, income and health.
Pomana said a sport, recreation and community hub in Fordlands would help locals to thrive and would contribute to "breaking the cycle".
She said it made sense to invest in a deprived community rather than a more affluent one like Springfield.
"Where is the investment for our children?
"If you invest in deprived areas and break the cycle then overall that's investing in the whole of Rotorua.
"We'll take a smaller version [of the proposed Westbrook hub]."
She said the "dream" would be for a Fordlands hub to include facilities like an indoor basketball court, a medical centre, a music studio and a classroom.
She said a Fordlands version of the Westbrook proposal could include enable the building of 20 to 40 dwellings and a central hub in Huia Lyons Reserve.
She wanted to see social and affordable housing scattered across the city rather than concentrated in Fordlands.
About 150 potential dwellings were part of the council's Westbrook Sport and Recreation Precinct proposal, with the plan they would occupy one section of the current Springfield golf course.
Pomana said families in Fordlands were finding it increasingly difficult to find housing.
Rents were rising, homes were overcrowded and in some cases living conditions were substandard, she said.
"The housing crisis is impacting our community massively."
Fordlands Community Centre had set up a housing service, which had been running for four weeks.
Pomana said in that time, there had been 14 enrolments and six people had been housed in private rentals.
One of those was previously in emergency accommodation in a motel, and the other five had been prevented from entering emergency accommodation.
The service had been assisted by Visions of a Helping Hand, and the council, along with government agencies such as Kainga Ora, the Department of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Social Development, were currently working with Fordlands Community Centre "on housing that would suit our community".
Saving Springfield Facebook group founder Dee Dee Kusabs said anything that would save the Springfield golf course "would be a great idea".
"The council should be listening to the people who say 'we want it'.
"It's a wonderful idea. If it's needed elsewhere, it's a much more palatable proposal than putting it somewhere no one wants it."
She believed the council had "put the cart before the horse" in deciding where the sport and recreation precinct should be located.
Saving Springfield president Robert Lee said the idea of a Fordlands sport and recreation precinct would be "better than putting it in Springfield and destroying the golf course", but he was still concerned about the potential cost of the project.
The council had allowed $61 million for it over 10 years in its draft 2021-2031 Long-term Plan.
"It's a step in the right direction. The proposal is repugnant to nine out of 10 people I talk to."
Lee also queried the concept of sports hubs as he believed it could cause sports clubs to lose their history, culture and identity.
Evolve spokesman Ben Sandford said the Fordlands community "definitely needs investment" but the sport and recreation precinct wasn't the right project for that investment.
"It couldn't in any conceivable way fit in Fordlands."
Rotorua MP Todd McClay, who has been vocal about issues arising from emergency accommodation in the city's famous motel mile, said anything in the proposal to do with housing would be years away and "not a solution today".
"Many developers who would like to build are frustrated by delays including consenting from the council."
He said Springfield golf club members made a "good case" that recreation through golf was important.
"Using the current homelessness problem to take the golf course away doesn't stack up."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said it was "great people are having these conversations".
"I would encourage them to submit their feedback and ideas into the current Long-term Plan process for consideration when this particular proposal comes up for community-wide consultation.
"I would also really love to hear from people about the key priorities in the Long-term Plan that we are currently consulting on – housing, community safety, economic development, infrastructure, climate change – which are the issues the community has told us are current priorities."
The council was invited to comment for this article but declined.
Proposal could impact golf course property prices, lobby group claims
The leader of a group dedicated to saving Springfield golf course from its possible redevelopment claims it could knock $100,000 off the value of nearby properties.
On RNZ's Checkpoint on Wednesday, Saving Springfield president Robert Lee told presenter Lisa Owen the group's concerns were not just about its potential impact on property prices.
He said he'd spoken to a real estate agent who specialised in the area, and the agent had estimated the proposed development would take $100,000 off every property on the edge of the course.
"That's about 100 houses."
He said it would take about $50,000 off the value of properties across the road from the golf course.
"It would destroy the neighbourhood, I believe."
He said the group didn't like to talk in terms of financial implications because for those opposed to the proposal "it's a hell of a lot more than just numbers".
Lee said the golf course "really is the heart of Springfield".