There were more people than chairs at a community meeting in Stratford last week.
Nearly 200 people crammed into the War Memorial centre for the meeting regarding a potential $7.18 million loan from Stratford District Council to the Stratford A&P Association. Five minutes before the meeting formally started it was standing room only, something Stratford District mayor Neil Volzke commented on as he opened the meeting.
"I have been in local government a long time and the only time we have had a hall this full for a public meeting before was when we were talking about putting rates up."
Neil thanked those present for attending, before explaining the format of the meeting. It was, he said, a chance for people to hear from the Stratford A&P Association regarding the proposed multi-use facility development temporarily known as the "Stratford Park Project" as well as himself, and to be able to ask questions about the project and the proposed multi-million dollar loan.
The A&P Association wants to borrow the money to purchase two sections of land, adjacent to the current A&P Showgrounds to then develop a multi-use facility for agricultural, equine, motorsports, motoring education and events.
Neil said there were a range of ways in which council could support the project, from giving support to the A&P Association with applications to philanthropic funders for the project, through to purchasing the land outright and leasing it to the A&P Association. Council's preferred option at this point is for council to access a loan at a significantly lower interest rate than what the A&P Association could achieve on its own and on-loan this to the A&P Association. Before a final decision is made, elected members wanted to hear from the community, said Neil, and the proposal was now out for public consultation with a hearing scheduled for late November.
It was important people took the opportunity to have their say, he said, reminding people the deadline for public submissions on the proposal is November 5.
Neil McDonald, chairman of the Stratford A&P Association Strategic Planning committee, gave more details about the Stratford Park Project, saying the proposal wasn't just about what was best for the A&P Association itself, "but for the town and for the district as a whole".
The A&P Showgrounds themselves are dated, he said, with buildings having been built mostly in the 1920s and 1930s. With the estimated cost to repair them being over $1m, it made more sense to consider replacing them with buildings designed for modern and future needs, he said.
The crowd seemed mainly supportive of the proposal, with questions from the floor asking about planned repayments of any potential loan, how the land would pay for itself before the next stage of the project began, whether other options had been considered and where more information regarding the feasibility and finances could be found.
Don O'Connor, who was named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2020 New Year Honours for his services to motorsport, was present at the meeting and raised his hand to speak.
"I have quite a bit of experience in motorsport," he said to laughs from the crowd.
Stratford ratepayers were right, he said, to ask questions and to raise concerns about the project, but that didn't mean it was a bad concept or idea.
"I am not saying the questions asked tonight aren't relevant, it is a right and proper thing to be cautious about, and you should continue to be do. But when I have gone around and talked to motorsport clubs about this idea, they are all excited about it. This project has people who are experienced behind it, there are very good people involved... motorsports people are your people, there has been a motorsport club in Stratford for over 100 years, and a speedway for 55 years. This project is ambitious, but it might just work."
To loud applause from the majority of those present, he finished off saying "be prudent, ask the questions, but dream, dream about what it could be, that's all I ask".
Before the meeting closed, Mayor Neil reminded people to take the time to give their feedback on the proposal by filling in an Online feedback form, or by email or post, before the deadline of November 5.
Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the CEO of Stratford District Council.