The loss of Stratford's racecourse would have a negative impact on the community, say district leaders.
A review of the New Zealand racing industry by Australian racing administrator and breeder John Messara has called for the closures of many tracks around the country including Stratford's.
In the report, Stratford is described as a venue with one race meeting in 2017/2018. "Fair location. Below average infrastructure. Training. Not required. Freehold. Some training to be relocated. Stratford RC should race at New Plymouth."
Stratford mayor Neil Volzke and chief executive officer of Stratford District Council, Sven Hanne, have written a letter outlining their concerns to the Department of Internal Affairs.
"The DIA had asked for feedback on John Messara's review of the New Zealand racing industry and that was something we were keen to provide."
An edited version of their feedback is printed below:
On behalf of our community, we would like to address the signalled loss of Stratford's Te Kapua Park. Horse training has a long history in Stratford - as part of the research for this submission we were able to track the beginnings of Stratford's current race track, Te Kapua Park, back to 1891 - some 127 years ago, known as Bushford Park at the time.
The obvious and immediate impact of losing Te Kapua Park would be the loss of a local training facility for the current seven trainers and approximately 60 horses in their care. The training activity provides income and employment as well as economic spin-offs through associated services, suppliers, vets, etc.
It all forms part of the critical mass it takes for rural towns like Stratford to retain services and employment. It also provides opportunities for local people to participate as owners, and creates a much stronger interest in the sport, when locally owned and or trained horses compete, as it retains local association with the sport and is retained as part of the fabric of the local community.
At a time when the government focus is on economic development in the regions, it seems counterintuitive for the government to actively terminate the livelihoods of a long-standing and well-respected profession in the very regions they are claiming to be supporting.
It is also worth noting that, by virtue of Section 9(2) of the Racing Act 2003, the Racing Board must "comply with the principles of natural justice; and exhibit a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates". We would suggest that the Messara Report, which fails to recognise this obligation on the part of the board, is in direct conflict with this requirement.
To be clear - we do not disagree with the aggregation of race tracks for the purpose of racing, however we do strongly object to local training facilities that are essential to the livelihoods of some of our residents being disowned and sold to fund facilities elsewhere.
We would also question the process, consistency and criteria used to determine which tracks have been selected for closure across the country. This decision can be influenced by broader factors including many from those outside the racing fraternity, but there appears to be no consultation with other interested parties that may well provide beneficial alternatives.
In addition to horse training and racing, Te Kapua Park is used for a much wider range of activities than just horse racing. Community groups as well as local schools actively use the facility. The loss of the facility would remove public access and put further pressure on existing council facilities, or require council to develop a facility to meet the needs of the wider community, currently filled by Te Kapua Park.
Once again, government is transferring costs on to councils, with no consultation and despite repeat claims by its ministers "that unlike their predecessors, they will be working in partnership with local government".
Last but not least, we feel the need to address the matter of the Government taking freehold land that is owned by the community for the purpose of funding facilities outside our community. We are unable to find a legal precedent to this kind of action and are unable to see how this can be undertaken legally. The closest legislative relative to the signalled action would be the Public Works Act, but even that has compensation of the property owner at the core. In our view it is a slippery slope and we strongly urge the Government to stay clear of such indefensible actions.
Neil Volzke, Stratford mayor
Sven Hanne, CEO Stratford District Council