“We don’t have to rush it.” Tauranga City Council commission chair Anne Tolley is talking about deciding the fate of the Tauranga Racecourse Reserve.
In a council meeting on Monday commissioners were presented with the Greerton Maarawaewae Study update that outlined the community engagement and analysis of options for future use of the site.
Commissioners decided to delay decision-making beyond the recommendation of June, to enable further consultation with the community and other key stakeholders.
The 85 hectares of Crown land administered by TCC is currently leased by Racing Tauranga and the Tauranga Golf Club.
The land was permanently reserved as a recreation ground and racecourse in the late-1800s and the clubs have a lease until 2039.
The Greerton Maarawaewae Study sought feedback on how the land could best be used in 10 to 50 years’ time.
There were 1500 pieces of feedback received between the council’s two community engagement processes.
Anne was concerned by the lack of responses. “We really only got about 1500-odd people taking part in the process, so it worries me that this is quite a significant process for the area.”
She suggested further public consultation and hearings once preferred options were chosen.
“Just thinking about how we might ensure that people get every opportunity to give us their thoughts. We don’t have to rush this decision there’s no urgency around it.”
Anne acknowledged the purpose of the Greerton Maarawaewae study was to provide certainty to current users. “The current users…don’t have perpetual leases, there is a finite time.
“They want to invest capital in their facilities, so they need to have that certainty of long-term tenure.”
TCC’s most recent engagement asked people’s opinions on seven options. They received around 750 pieces of feedback.
Options included leaving the land as is; an enhanced use of the space by adding active recreational facilities and a community centre, while retaining the golf course and race course.
Other options removed the racecourse while retaining the golf course and added a community centre; two included housing; and the final option included a health services site with active recreation.
The two housing options included up to 1500 new homes and potential for a school. One option retained the golf course; the other removed it and added a destination park.
The addition of housing to the land is a “sensitive trigger” for mana whenua and would prompt a Treaty of Waitangi claim.
Representatives of Ngāi Tamarāwaho hapū lodged a claim via the Treaty of Waitangi Act in February.
The reserve land is currently zoned as a passive open space and is further identified as a scheduled site to be protected as open space and for recreation activities
Hapū representative Buddy Mikaere told Local Democracy Reporting if the status were to change it would activate the claim.
The land was confiscated after the Battle of Gate Pa in 1865 and because the land was being used for public good, the hapū didn’t pursue it as part of their treaty settlement, says Buddy.
“The claim [lodged in February] just sits there. But once the Crown does something, so for example, housing, then the claim is triggered.
“So we want to have a conversation with them about why doesn’t it come back to us in the first instance?”
Buddy is also a Racing Tauranga trustee and wants to see the racecourse continue its 150-year history on the site.
“The initial reasoning, for establishing it as a recreational reserve was because it was a racecourse. It’s got a long heritage and a long history in Tauranga,” says Buddy.
Racing in the Bay of Plenty is also under the spotlight from New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing.
The NZTR Directions Paper said: “NZTR has met with Racing Rotorua and Racing Tauranga and encouraged them to work together on what the future of racing will be for the Bay of Plenty region”.
“NZTR is of the view that thoroughbred racing in the region may be best sustained in the long-term if there is only one venue for racing in the region.”
Racing Tauranga chairman Carl McComb told Local Democracy Reporting the club’s preference was to continue racing on the reserve but they were happy to have discussions with Racing Rotorua and NZTR.
“We support the nationwide racing reform work and are in proactive talks with the industry as the Bay of Plenty has a strong future in racing,” says Carl.
Carl says retaining the status quo or keeping the racecourse and adding in extra community amenities would make the current track a viable option. “We recognise that enhanced community use has got to be factored in.
“It’s beneficial to bring forward these long-term industry discussions to align with the Maarawaewae Study.”
As part of this TCC is participating in a cross-organisational working party to identify potential sites for a sub-regional equine racing facility with NZTR and Racing Tauranga.
Council will undertake further engagement with mana whenua and existing Tauranga Racecourse Reserve users before reporting back to the Commission in June.
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