Rotorua's council is moving to shelve controversial plans to put sportsfields and housing on a golf course as part of a $62 million proposal, with nearly $190,000 already spent.
Rotorua Lakes Council says it is working on a “new programme” for sports fields and facilities that does not include changes to Springfield Golf Course.
Supporters of the 18-hole course - which counts one of New Zealand’s top golfers Danny Lee among its alumni - say they are relieved and the change in direction is a “big win for the Springfield community”.
In 2017, the council suggested putting a future sports ground on the council-owned land leased by the club. It would be part of the Westbrook Sports and Recreation Precinct.
A concept image was made public in 2020 and the following year, the council put the proposal into its draft Long-Term Plan with an estimated $62m price tag.
The vision for the precinct incorporated Westbrook Reserve, Ray Boord Park, Smallbone Park, Rotorua International Stadium, Westbrook netball courts and the Springfield Golf Course into a sports hub, with the potential for housing to also be built on the golf course land.
The proposal prompted community backlash. The Saving Springfield group collected 5017 signatures on a petition asking the council to declare the golf course a taonga and continue its lease when the current term expires in 2027.
Saving Springfield president Robert Lee and fellow campaigner Don Paterson, who live near the course, were among six new councillors elected to the council last October.
In a Long-Term Plan 2024-34 workshop in October, Paterson asked whether sportsfield network plans would be included in a future workshop.
The Westbrook Sports and Recreation Precinct project would have put sportsfields on land occupied by Springfield Golf Club.
Interim council chief executive Gina Rangi acknowledged there had been concerns about the precinct proposal, and said it was not the current council’s strategy.
“That [precinct] proposal will not exist once this council adopts its proposal.”
Instead, she said the council was investing in sportsfields at Titoki Pl, land previously earmarked for Kāinga Ora housing, and reviewing Rotorua’s sportsfield needs.
Elected members were told in August Rotorua would need an estimated nine more sportsfields by 2030.
Lee said he felt a “huge sense of relief” the precinct was not included in the plan under development.
The golf course was the heart of that part of the city, he told the workshop.
“It’s a big win for the Springfield community.”
Paterson said after the meeting the proposal had caused “anguish and harm” to the community concerned about losing “precious greenspace”, so the change was a positive outcome.
The council confirmed to Local Democracy Reporting its new approach would have no effect on Springfield Golf Course.
Council infrastructure and environmental solutions group manager Stavros Michael said the total spend on the Westbrook Sports and Recreation Precinct project was $189,591.
Of this, $26,946 was related to scoping and forecasting the district’s future sport facility and field needs to identify improvements required as part of the 2024-34 Long-Term Plan.
Asked if the precinct proposal had been scrapped completely or tabled, he said the proposal contained a range of work including existing field upgrades and improving the stadium.
”The anticipated new programme will retain some components of this and more work is focused on improving fields and renewing facilities.”
This included adding some field lights and creating two new fields at Titoki Place.
"The stadium upgrades and the creation of eight additional fields will not be pursued at this point in time.”
He said impacted sports clubs and codes were told mid-September the precinct would “likely look different” in this long-term plan, as it focused more on the short-term need.
There are on average 130 players in the Springfield Golf Club twilight series each week. Photo / Laura Smith.
Springfield Golf Club president Paul Fox said the “next hurdle” for the club would be having its lease renewed.
Fox was confident this would happen “in the very near future”. The current lease covered 33 years.
Having the green space in the city was a big asset, he said, and it could aspire to be a golfing holiday destination like Queenstown.
A decision on what the council proposes in its draft Long-Term Plan 2024-34 regarding sports fields and facilities has yet to be made, and will go out for public consultation before the council finalises the plan.
Twilight golf: A fair way to spend an evening
This month marks 75 years since the Springfield Golf Club was established, beginning years of work by volunteers to clear the swampy land and lay out the course.
Lee gave Local Democracy Reporting a tour of the course during the twilight golf session last Wednesday.
He said the council’s move away from its precinct plan was especially fitting given the club’s anniversary.
Fox said he believed the club’s twilight summer series was one of the most well-attended in the country, averaging 130 players a week.
Fox said the nine-hole team event was a social occasion and a big part of the club’s income.
About 120 people attended on that evening, many staying afterwards for a meal and a beer. The fairways and greens were busy with activity.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.