Lines are being drawn in the dirt over a large block of Crown reserve land in Tauranga, with several community groups strongly opposed to the idea that it might ever be developed for housing.
The Tauranga community has until the end of February to consider what the future looks like for a large block of historic reserve land in the central city.
The golf club wants to stay put, and does not support any options that include housing. The same goes for the racing club, which is eager to extend its lease.
Local hapū Ngāi Tamarāwaho would also like the racecourse and golf course to remain, but with more recreational facilities, and biking and walking paths.
Meanwhile, Tauranga MP Simon Bridges opposes the change.
“Tauranga needs green spaces, and many regularly enjoy both the racecourse and the golf club.”
The final decision will be made this year by the four-member Crown Commission that took over all Tauranga City Council governance responsibilities in February 2021.
The council first announced in late October last year that the future of the Crown-owned reserve land was under review, in partnership with Kāinga Ora.
The block is roughly the size of 100 rugby fields and was permanently reserved as a recreation ground and racecourse in the late 1800s.
It is administered by the council and leased by Tauranga Racing Club and Tauranga Golf Club.
Tauranga Racecourse Reserve Charitable Trust oversees management of the current overall lease, which is due to run out in 2039.
Ten days before Christmas, the council released seven draft options for the public to consider. Housing is included in two of the seven options. In five of them, the racecourse will be relocated. In two, the golf course will be relocated. One option is to keep the status quo.
The eventual outcome could be one of the seven options, a combination of the options, or something completely different.
The council is seeking feedback from the public until the end of February 2022. The feedback will be collated and analysed and final recommendations will be presented to the commissioners in March. They will then make their decision, in partnership with the Crown, in April.
Commission Chair Anne Tolley has said the deadline could be extended if necessary.
Kāinga Ora Bay of Plenty regional director Darren Toy, Commission chair Anne Tolley and Commissioner Shadrach Rolleston cast an eye on some of the submitted proposals. Photo. Mathew Nash/SunLive.
“But, actually, when you're doing consultation on quite a significant issue, people end up arguing the same arguments again and again, and that doesn't take you forward. So, we’re not hard and fast, but we do need to bring this to a head.”
Carl McComb, chairman of Tauranga Racing Club, says the ambition of the board is to seek a new lease beyond 2039, which would see the club continue on a more than 100-year legacy of racing on the reserve.
“We have received the options and like everyone else will give them consideration over the Christmas holidays and will respond to these options close to February.”
McComb says Tauranga Racing Club does not support housing on the reserve.
Tauranga Golf Club also does not support any options that include housing, club manager Michelle Towersey told Stuff.
“We have received the options and will now take time to consider those options that include golf. We will be consulting with our members and other stakeholders, including mana whenua,” she said.
The 85-hectare block of land, located in the central city suburb of Greerton, is currently zoned as passive open space and is one of only eight scheduled sites in the city to be protected as open space and for recreation activities.
Any change to the status of the land would need to go through a significant plan change process, and it could also bring into play Ngāi Tamarāwaho, which didn’t include the reserve in its Treaty of Waitangi claim (the final settlement of which is ongoing) because the land is being used for public benefit.
Ngāi Tamarāwaho spokesperson Buddy Mikaere says every city needs a big green space and that this reserve is Tauranga’s.
“With these options, our preference is for the racetrack and golf course to remain but with the addition of more recreational facilities – playing fields in the centre of the [race]course, biking and walking paths through the golf course. These are all activities which befit a recreational reserve.”
This matches option 2 – enhanced community activity combined with racecourse, golf course, and equestrian use.
Option 2 would see sports fields/artificial turfs within the racecourse area, a possible community centre with multipurpose bookable rooms, and enhanced connections to Kopurererua Valley – providing a link for cyclists and walkers, mana whenua cultural values and narratives integrated for the reserve and surrounding area, and reduced equestrian space.
Nicole Kildare, secretary of the Tauranga Equestrian Sports Association, says “like the overwhelming majority of the community we wish to see this reserve retained as a green space”.
She says the association is working with the racing club and the council to retain its facilities and secure its tenure, “so that we can undertake improvements that have been on hold”.
Equestrian space is included in four of the seven options put forward by the council, two of which would see it enhanced from the status quo, and one of which would see the space reduced.
Kildare says being removed from the reserve could potentially end the association’s activities, especially its larger shows.
“We have not been able to locate another suitable site at this stage. Our diverse clubs work collaboratively to maintain our facilities that have been built up since the 1980s, so that equestrian sports have a location to train and compete at.”
Heidi Hughes, from transport and urban form advocacy group Greater Tauranga, believes high-density housing should be built on a section of the reserve, alongside a public park.
“You want to build your houses where the amenities are. The Cameron Rd corridor offers opportunities for people to be able to live, work, learn, and play, without having to travel all over the city,” she says.
“And that just creates a real density of vibrant living that will make Greerton village pop, it’ll make the retail centre pop, it’ll create a second hub for Tauranga.”
Of the two options released by the council that include housing, option 5 could see between 700 and 1000 new homes built on a section of the land, while option 6 could see between 1000 and 1500.
Tauranga Golf Club survives in option 5, but not in option 6. These two options also include the potential for a new school, and a community centre.
Hughes, who is also a former Tauranga city councillor, said Greater Tauranga’s preference is option 6 – a destination park, new homes, and potentially a new school.
“That option is great, except for the number of houses is really underwhelming ... but we don’t believe that they need to use any more land, in fact you should be able to get a lot more houses on that land, with having even less of a housing footprint than they have currently,” she says.
“We think they should go directly to six storeys and do a really tall village in a really green environment.”
Hughes says Greater Tauranga also likes the idea of a school being included, because that would also offer recreational spaces such as courts and a hall.
She says there could be as many as 3000 new dwellings on the reserve land, if a well-designed, high-density suburb was created, with a lot of green space and recreational opportunities within walking and cycling distance.
“Not by taking over all the land, just by going up.”
In the first phase of public consultation about the future use of the reserve land, the council received 650 pieces of feedback – 100 in person at community days and in focus groups, and 550 via emails, letters, online feedback forms, and Facebook comments.
That feedback, along with technical advice, was used to develop the seven options.
The council says there is very strong support in the feedback for keeping the city’s green spaces green and thinking about the value of open space for generations to come – “once it is gone we can’t get it back”.
There is also strong support for places for people to play – active and passive recreational spaces – and plenty of support for keeping the golf course.
The council said while there was some support for housing, there was also lots of opposition – “please don’t bury our green space in houses”.
There is some support for keeping the racecourse and equestrian, and some support for relocating the two.
People have also asked for improved public access to the reserve land.
Tolley has spoken candidly about the “housing crisis” in Tauranga and said recently that it means, as commissioners of the city, they “are looking at every possibility to increase the housing stock”.
“It’s very clear that this is a very special piece of land, and it’s very dear to the hearts of Tauranga city. It has a long history. So, we’ve got to respect all of that, and we’ve got to take note of what the community says,” Tolley says.
”Everyone wants more houses, but not necessarily on their green space.”
The council has said the current leases have no automatic right of renewal. It also said it has not received legal advice in relation to the leases and whether they can be revoked before 2039.
“Rather we are working through the process recognising that the current leases run to 2039 and are committed to working with existing users through the options and timing around those.”