“Hands Off Baypark Speedway” is the message splashed across bumper stickers, a billboard and social media as Tauranga’s speedway is facing possible eviction from its current site by 2029.
The Bay of Plenty Speedway Association (BOPSA) has called the Trustpower Stadium in Mount Maunganui’s Baypark home since it was built in 2001.
As part of Tauranga City Council’s Active Reserves Masterplans for Baypark, Blake Park and the Tauranga Domain, the stadium could go to make way for a multi-use sporting precinct for outdoor netball, track and field athletics and gymnastics.
The stadium is owned by council and run by the council-controlled organisation Bay Venues. The speedway association has a lease until 2029.
In response to the council’s plans, BOPSA formed a steering group with the promoter, Speedway Racing Ltd, and the sport’s governing body Speedway NZ.
The steering group is working towards legal action if the “desired outcome” of remaining at Baypark is not achieved.
Steering group member Rodney Wood said the legal action was based on the group’s belief consultation with them was “rushed and incomplete” and the council had a “predetermined agenda”.
Also, that the council was “out of line” with their lease agreement, the original sale agreement and speedway’s tenure at the site.
“We [the steering group] were disappointed by the plans going to council before consultation was completed and we were blindsided by what appears to be a pre-determined agenda,” said Wood.
Consultation between council and the steering group started in July and the masterplans were adopted by the commissioners at a Tauranga City Council meeting on 3 October.
The 15,000-seat stadium was built by former Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson at a cost of $24 million and he owned and operated it until 2007 when he sold to the council for $12 million.
Clarkson told Local Democracy Reporting the half price deal was a donation to speedway, Bay of Plenty Rugby and the community, with the intention speedway would remain there.
Provincial rugby matches were held at the stadium in previous years but were now held at the Tauranga Domain.
The council would be “making a mistake” by relocating the speedway and removing the stadium, said Clarkson.
“My intention wasn’t ever that council would s**t on speedway and just get rid of them. That’s just dumb.
“If you start moving stadiums and upset all these people it’s going to cost millions and millions.”
Building a stadium was “not a five-minute wonder” and council should “leave our speedway alone”, he said.
Wood said BOPSA had exhausted their funds obtaining resource consent for the stadium when Clarkson stepped in to build it.
When the sale happened BOPSA held the resource consent but gave this to council “in good faith that we’d forever have our speedway there,” said Wood.
“[Now] we’re getting told to go somewhere else because they want to use it for something else.”
When asked how BOPSA felt about this, Wood replied: “We’re pretty ripped, to be honest.
“It’s an insult at the highest level really because that’s an asset that the city has, that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the initiative and hard work of speedway.”
The association started in 1969 and were the “pioneers” of the stadium in Tauranga, said Wood.
Speedway was “well supported” by the community and businesses in Tauranga and the 15 events they host every summer brought visitors and revenue to Tauranga, he said.
If the speedway were to be relocated, BOPSA “didn’t believe there was anywhere that it would survive”.
“There’s one piece of land in the Bay of Plenty that works for speedway, and it’s right where it is.”
The estimated cost of building a speedway elsewhere was around $300m plus the cost of land, and this figure was provided by a quantity surveyor during consultation, said Wood.
Tauranga City Council would not confirm the cost.
Council spaces and places team leader planning, Ross Hudson responded: “There is early work being undertaken on what facilities are necessary for the current speedway offer and what possible locations are available across the wider Bay of Plenty area, but costings are still being scoped.”
The council also required the speedway’s pit area to be temporarily relocated to another part of Baypark to enable netball courts to be built on the current pit area.
“There will be no impact on speedway as we will ensure the new pit area is in a place with the required facilities before we ask them to use it,” said Hudson.
Wood said their “biggest concern” with the relocation was health and safety and the “potential liabilities”.
“Unless everything is done properly, we will be in a compromised situation where our pits are too far away from our clubrooms and our fan base.
“Unless its’ done in conjunction with our needs it’s going to be a fail.”
He said BOPSA was “not opposed” to having other users and “coexisting” with other sporting codes at Baypark.
Former Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby supported the speedway’s cause.
As mayor in 2007 he helped facilitate the stadium’s sale and said speedway had to be at its current site “for common sense reasons”.
These included its central location and the weather because a speedway couldn’t be in a place prone to high rainfall, said Crosby.
It would be a “retrograde step” to remove the stadium and the speedway had a “very strong future there,” he said.
“I encourage the council to work productively with the Bay of Plenty Speedway Association and other supporters to make sure that speedway stays there”.
In response to everyone’s concerns commissioner Stephen Selwood said the Active Reserves Masterplans for Baypark, Blake Park and the Tauranga Domain were a “key part” of a wider network plan for investment in active reserves across the city.
This was to ensure the reserves continued to meet the needs of the growing city far into the future, he said.
“It’s important to recognise that these are outline plans, which are just the first step on this journey.
“We have listened to the feedback from the groups whose activities could potentially be affected and we are committed to working with all stakeholders as we go through the feasibility, business case and design processes required before any changes are implemented,” said Selwood.
“The intent of the masterplans is to improve active recreation facilities and opportunities and as such, our expectation is that the changes outlined would create positive outcomes for clubs, other stakeholders and the community.
“We’ve made it clear that this is a long-term masterplan and is subject to meeting all of the council’s obligations to engage, consult and meet all lease and legal requirements.
“We have already committed to meet with Speedway in good faith and intend to work with them to find a mutually acceptable pathway forward.”
The masterplans include building a “boutique” 8000-10,000 seat stadium at the Tauranga Domain, which would require the athletics track, Tauranga Croquet Club and the Tauranga Bowls Club to relocate.
A business case for the stadium was underway and the plans included provision for an athletics track at Baypark.
At Blake Park in Mount Maunganui the rugby and cricket fields would be upgraded, additional grass fields added, the tennis courts reconfigured, and the netball courts would be relocated to Baypark.
According to the council’s website the goal was to present detailed concept and investment plans for the three sites to the commissioners in March 2023.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air