A final decision on the potential $7.18 million loan to the Stratford A&P Association will be made next week at an extraordinary council meeting.
On Tuesday this week, the Policy and Services committee met to hear submissions from members of the public on the proposal and to make a recommendation on the decision which would be taken to next Tuesday's meeting.
Earlier this year, the Stratford A&P Association asked Stratford District Council for a loan to buy two parcels of land, totalling 63 hectares, to enable the development of a multi-use facility for motorsport, driver education, equestrian activities and events and other sporting activities.
The project, provisionally called the Stratford Park project, would be a "game changer" for the district, say supporters of the concept.
The council has been supportive of the idea of the loan, but put the idea out for public consultation before making a final decision on it.
A total of 559 submissions were received on the proposal, including a petition containing 39 signatures. The majority of submissions supported Option 4 - for council to borrow the money and on lend it to the A&P Association, but not all.
One submitter, Mike Proctor, spoke at the hearing asking if elected members had considered the environment.
"I find it astonishing anyone would consider increasing the use of fossil fuels for any purpose that is not absolutely essential. The burning of fossil fuels for motorsport, which is an indulgence not a necessary activity, is unacceptable."
He said there was no need to rush the decision, suggesting council waited for six to 12 months for the A&P Association to provide further information on its ability to repay the loan.
One submitter, Dana Haszard, told the committee the opportunity the project offered equestrian sports was "unprecedented".
It was "exciting", she said, and would allow for growth in all levels of the sport.
"The emphasis in today's world is about enabling people young and old, providing opportunities, inspiring and supporting people."
Having been involved in a variety of equestrian activities in the region since 1970, she had observed a pattern of equestrian venues becoming significantly reduced in size, if not completely unavailable, over that time, she said.
South Taranaki District mayor Phil Nixon, accompanied by Marianne Archibald, South Taranaki District Council (STDC) corporate services group manager, also spoke at the hearing, saying while STDC supported the proposal in parts, that support wasn't for the entire project.
STDC did not support the development of a regional equine hub in central Taranaki as part of the proposed Stratford Park Project. He said Hāwera already had an equestrian facility, and South Taranaki is identified in the Taranaki Regional Sport Facility Strategy as being the equestrian hub for the region.
Phil said any funding, including that by way of a loan, for regional equestrian facility should be focused on improving the equestrian facility in South Taranaki, not developing a new one.
Deputy mayor Alan Jamieson asked if the South Taranaki facility was going to expand.
"We have heard from a number of submitters today, equestrian people, who are saying it is hard to book the arena. They say a second equestrian centre is needed."
Any decision on expansion of the Hāwera based arena was up to the Egmont A&P Association who own it, not the STDC, said Mayor Nixon.
"Those showgrounds return a lot to the district and it would be their call, not ours in regards to expansion."
Mayor Neil Volzke asked Nixon if he knew where a second potential equestrian facility which was referred to in the Taranaki Regional Sport Facility Strategy, would go.
"Is a second facility in Stratford actually any different to one in Inglewood or Waitara?"
"I've been led to believe it would be in North Taranaki, but it's not important," replied Nixon.
"But what is referred to is a smaller facility that would complement the larger, regional centre."
He said the three districts should be working together not competing.
This view was supported by Michael Carr and Zanta Jones of Sport Taranaki, who also spoke at the hearing.
They said Sport Taranaki could not support the development of new equestrian facilities until the Regional Network Plan for Equestrian Facilities was completed. This plan is currently being worked on.
Councillor John Sandford asked about use of the current Hāwera facility.
"Today our submitters have told us the facilities aren't available, but what you are saying is different."
Zanta said people needed to be "realistic".
"We are aware there are some operational concerns, but we need to be realistic about numbers here. In a year there are 61 events, and many of those number under 30 participants ... We already have a regional facility, we may not support Stratford being a regional home for equestrian activities but we do for motorsport."
Mayor Neil Volzke reminded the committee the decision in front of them was about loaning the money, not if there was a demand for an equestrian facility in the district.
"So are you saying we should decline the loan?" He asked Michael and Zanta.
"No, we support the preferred option," replied Michael.
Kim Sharpe, Chris Uhlenberg and Peter Kuriger spoke at the hearing, representing the Taranaki Stock Car Club.
They said the club had had a good relationship with the A&P Association for over 50 years and believed they would be able to work well together in the future on the Stratford Park Project.
The Stratford Speedway was one of the biggest speedways in New Zealand, they said, and were supportive of council granting the loan as they believed the Stratford Park Project would help grow the sport in the region even more.
"If the vote is yes, please know we share your vision and will work with the A&P Association to ensure success for all involved," said Kim.
When it came to the decision report on the loan proposal, the majority of councillors were in favour of proceeding with the loan, provided further information was received including an independent market valuation on the land involved.
Councillor Peter Dalziel said he didn't think a decision should be made at the meeting.
"I'm surprised we are being asked for this decision today."
Chief executive Sven Hanne said the committee needed to make a decision in order for the discussion to then be taken to the following week's meeting and the final decision to be made. Before that meeting the extra information requested would be available, he said.
Volzke said this was the first chance elected members had to discuss the loan proposal and encouraged them to do so. Council had to take a lot into account, he said, including the potential of job creation and economic growth a project like this could bring.
Councillor Grant Boyde said hearing the enthusiasm of many of the submitters had been "fantastic", adding a final, fully informed decision could only be made once the extra information was received.
Councillor Min McKay agreed, saying while she was voting in favour at this point, the final decision would be made at the next meeting.
"I certainly want to see the business report, etc, before we make the final decision."
Councillor Jono Erwood said he noted the large number of people in favour of the loan.
"It's fantastic to see 89.4 per cent of submitters were in favour of the loan, and if you add those who were in favour of council buying the land itself and then leasing it to the A&P Association, that is 92 per cent in total."
"Let's not sit on our hands," he said.
Mayor Volzke and all councillors apart from Peter Dalziel voted in favour of approving the loan to the A&P Association, subject to council receiving a land valuation and business case to their satisfaction. The final decision will be made at an extraordinary council meeting next Tuesday.
Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the CEO of Stratford District Council.