What's all the hoohah about a roof?

Well, there's plenty if we're talking about the Whanganui velodrome - and it's been going on for years. But the kerfuffle has turned into cheerleading in many quarters as plans to roof the facility finally reach the detailed design stage, funders come out of the woodwork and national, regional and local commitments are made to the project.

So who are the key players and what's their interest?

The project drivers

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Leigh Grant, Bob Smith, Marty O'Fee, Stuart Bruce and Mark Stoneman make up the Regional Velodrome Development Trust. These guys have been cheerleaders from day one and they've been driving the current roofing project (and there have been a few in the 20 years since the velodrome was built) for the past three years.

The project will see the arena covered with a clear span tension membrane roof structure, spanning 7000sq m. It's the same type of roof as the new Anna Meares Velodrome built in Brisbane for next year's Commonwealth Games and uses a similar dome structure and state-of-the-art membrane technology as London's O2 Dome. The sides of the facility will be open but the design will be future-proofed so the velodrome could be fully enclosed if funds become available.

Leigh Grant says the trust is currently revising its business plan to confirm price estimates.

"At this stage it's a $12.5 million project and we can call on $10m of funding so we just need to raise the rest," Mr Grant said.

"We also have a $1m commitment from the Whanganui District Council which is outside the $10m.

"Once we've confirmed the final quantity surveying figures we'll be able to start the detailed design. The project will take some 15 months to complete from the start of the detailed design stage through to project completion.

"One reason the proposed velodrome for Napier failed was that there was basically one person driving it within council and their catchment area isn't very big but ours is huge."

Bob Smith says the difference with this project is that it has taken a regional focus rather than being solely a Whanganui project.

"It will be a regional velodrome and events centre as well as a regional performance hub for Cycling New Zealand.

"Cycling and inline skating will be anchor tenants but there are all sorts of other uses. It will expand on what Whanganui can offer in terms of venues and have capacity for events and shows that won't fit into existing venues. We are looking at anything from major kapa haka events to shows that can't use the Royal Wanganui Opera House."

The trust says athletics is looking for a winter training facility and there is the possibility of including a pole vaulting run-up because the roof will be high enough for indoor competition. Court sports have been excluded from the plans but the arena could be used for a Davis Cup tennis feature match.

Community and regional use is essential for the venue.

Mr Grant said the track will not be only for elite cyclists and will be available for schools programmes, ACC rehabilitation programmes, physiotherapy programmes, corporate activity, recreational cyclists, disabled and elderly citizens, all exercising within a safe environment. The national velodrome, Avantidrome in Cambridge, has high community use (81 per cent), according to its annual report, and is open 12 hours a day (sometimes longer) with continual activity.

The regional supporters

Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith is a passionate advocate for the establishment of a regional velodrome facility.

"Between the two cities - Palmerston North and Whanganui - and wider region we have a really strong cycling heritage.

"Some time ago we all competed for the national velodrome that went to Cambridge and if we'd been smart we probably should have teamed up together.

"There's a lot more collaboration between the two cities now and the regional velodrome is a good use of public money. If the roof doesn't go over the top, the track will deteriorate and it will become a ruined asset.

"We can afford it as a region; Whanganui can't afford it by itself and Palmerston North is not planning to build one."

The mayors in the Horizons Regional Council area, and the Horizons chairman, have signed a letter to support some regional funding toward the facility, conditional on Whanganui supporting it and having some government support.

"All those pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together and pressure is coming on the mayors to go to Horizons Regional Council to put some funding in the long-term plan," Mr Smith said.

"There has been a mixed reaction in Palmerston North to supporting a facility in another city but people need to understand we are never going to build it ourselves. There was good support from my fellow councillors when it was brought up, with a strong majority to do something about it.

"I'm encouraging them to name it Central New Zealand Regional Velodrome. We need to change the culture of how people are thinking about it.

"Central, regional and local government need to work together. We already have one regional facility which is Totara Park in the Pohangina Valley. The velodrome would be the second regional facility. This will be a test case to see if it unlocks people's thinking."

Drilling around the velodrome to test area for construction of velodrome roof.
Drilling around the velodrome to test area for construction of velodrome roof.

The cyclists

The national cycling body will establish a performance hub in Whanganui and have one or two coaches based here full-time.

Cycling New Zealand chief executive Andrew Matheson says they are "totally committed to the benefits that roofing the regional velodrome in Whanganui will bring to New Zealand cycling at every level and support the Regional Velodrome Roofing Group unconditionally".

Former national cycling coach Ron Cheatley, a long-time advocate for roofing the velodrome, says the roof will provide certainty for event organisers.

"Many people talk about the exciting International Night of the Stars events that were held at the velodrome but, as three of these promotions had to be cancelled or disrupted because of bad weather, the Wanganui Cycling Club no longer takes the risk."

The speed skaters

Speed skating is the best crossover sport for cycling and the local skating fraternity is excited about the velodrome project, with the prospect of regular national, and possibly international, competitions being held there.

Accredited speed skating coach Gary Clark says the covered velodrome will be of huge value to skating, with about 1000 skaters in the 19 New Zealand clubs involved in speed skating.

"It will be an international specification track. Timaru has the only world class banked track in the southern hemisphere but it's not indoor and not a proper surface.

"The old adage 'build it and they will come' has been overwhelmingly proven in Timaru. Since the track was built in Timaru, club membership has exploded.

"But it's like comparing a Formula 1 car with a Fiat Bambina when you look at what we will have when the Whanganui velodrome project is completed. The Vesmaco surface will be much faster and it will be the current specification by the international body for world champs which requires a Vesmaco surface.

"Even without that surface, Timaru is getting international skaters. The Australian team stays in Timaru for two or three weeks before heading to the world champs and other international skaters have also come over and stayed in Timaru."

As well as the likelihood of regularly hosting the national championships, potentially every second year, there is the possibility of the Oceania championships being held in Whanganui and Mr Clark has hopes that the world championships could come here.

"The lack of poles holding up the roof will be a huge advantage for spectators and filming. Even the top European track has columns in the centre to hold up the roof which means you can't see all of the track."

The promoter

Live entertainment promoter Ian Magan, a former Whanganui resident who founded Pacific Entertainment, believes the city has always had good potential for local large-scale events, "plus the all-important regionally-marketed events that take in the Manawatu, Central North Island and even Taranaki and Wellington".

"The need is for a multi-purpose venue that has been planned to encompass the particular staging, loading and production needs for high-level entertainment, as well as meeting the usual requirements for sporting and other activities.

"Palmerston North is the nearest city and has tended to be the regional base in the past but it does not currently have such a facility, tending to rely on an older sports stadium as its only large resource. So there is an opportunity here.

"We think there is good potential for Whanganui to occupy such a space in the New Zealand venue scene - it all gets down to foresight of design, a willingness by the city as a whole to heavily promote the facility and good solid local support and management."

The community stalwart

Community event organiser and business owner Ed Boyd sees the potential for new events to be held at the velodrome.

"We can host so much more, we just need the velodrome roof installed sooner rather than later. It's so much more than a sporting venue. I can see all organisations in our great city being able to use this venue in one way or another. I've seen many proposals come through our business over the years on their way to decision-makers for brilliant events for Whanganui, so the will is there."