Widow pleads for husband’s dream to be realised

Denise Sturt holds a photo of her late husband Charles, a councillor who advocated for the new skatepark. Photo / Andrew Warner.

The widow of a former Rotorua councillor is pleading with the council not to shelve her late husband’s long fought-for dream of a new skatepark as it looks to trim costs.

Charles Sturt, a councillor for 33 years, resigned in 2019 after he was diagnosed with cancer and died the following year. He spent his last years supporting plans for a new skatepark in Kuirau Park but never got to see this dream realised.

Sturt’s widow has spoken out after the Rotorua Lakes Council cut the $2.5 million project, which was first mooted in 2015, from the district’s draft 10-year plan.

The city’s existing skate parks have previously been described as sunken concrete “death traps”, with concrete rougher than an “industrial cheese grater”.

Denise Sturt said her late husband would have been “devastated” by the prospect of the project being shelved.

“Can you imagine the state of the other park [Sheaf Park] in 10 years’ time? I know the economy is tough, but you’ve still got to provide services.”

Her husband wanted to get children away from Sheaf Park to a family-friendly and multipurpose facility that drew international events, she said.

She wanted it included in the plan even if no funding was allocated.

“It would be a shame if they canned it all together.”

The city’s mayor says she remains open-minded but the the city has six skateparks and the council need to be prudent with spending. The council’s draft plan is focussed on essential projects due to the challenging financial environment.

Sheaf Park skatepark in Rotorua. Photo / Andrew Warner.

The idea for the skatepark was first presented in 2015 and the council set aside $750,000 three years later to see if it could form part of a larger park upgrade.

It spent $94,000 preparing the site with the total cost expected to be about $2.5 million using external funding. However, this funding has yet to materialise.

The Rotorua Action Sports Charitable Trust, which formed last year to raise funding, also opposed the decision to cut the project from the draft plan.

Chairman Ryan Gray said it was absurd to drop a project nine years in the making with wide community support.

“We will be fighting this.”

He said the trust developed a strategic plan with Sport Bay of Plenty to attract funding, and received indications from some funders the project could be eligible.

“We have been working with the council since 2015 on this project, and are very disappointed to learn that our work to date could be dumped.”

Council consultation in 2018 showed the community “overwhelmingly” wanted a new skatepark, Gray said.

Gray wanted the council to commit the $750,000 in funding it had set aside.

Ryan Gray shares his views on the Kuirau Skatepark project possibly being dropped from 10-year plan. Photo / Andrew Warner.

“The majority of funding will come from non-ratepayer sources.”

Other funding methods included selling naming rights and park sponsorship.

“While we understand the council is under pressure to cut costs to keep rates down, we think investing in our city through action sports infrastructure, helping keep people engaged in community activities through action sports and helping them to build connections and confidence will improve lives and our city.”

What Rotorua’s council and mayor say

The draft plan consultation document said the council recognised in 2018 that the existing skate park at Sheaf Park was in poor condition, had reduced in size and aged equipment was removed.

“It was intended that funding applications by the trust would be supported by a council funding commitment.”

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell said there were six skate parks in the city - and the council had to spend prudently.

“The total cost of the project has previously been expected to cost $2.5m, with council offering to cover $750,000 of this, and unfortunately the additional external funding required to build the skate park has not yet been raised.

“I agree it’s been a very long time since this was requested and our council, like many people in our community, are restricted in what we can spend.

“So, it’s right that we confirm with our wider community what they’d prefer we prioritise spending on.”

Tapsell said they had focused on essential services first.

“We’ve provided our community with other options for extra spending, like hydro-slides at the Aquatic Centre, but we’d like them to confirm they’re okay paying additional rates for this.

“[The] council remains open-minded and won’t make a final decision until all feedback is received.”

Council infrastructure and environment group manager Stavros Michael encouraged people to provide feedback for elected members to consider when making a final decision on the plan.

Michael said the cost for site pre-loading - $94,000 - was all it had spent on the project. If the project is excluded from the finalised plan, the site would remain as it was.

“Regarding Sheaf Park, some features have been removed due to deterioration over several years and [the] council will continue to maintain the park.”

The plan would be reviewed in three years. Consultation closes on May 6.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

1 comment


Posted on 12-04-2024 13:01 | By Let's get real

Haven't there been unexpected eruptions in and around Kuirau Park...?
I would have thought that this is one of the more unstable areas in town and possibly unsafe for public gatherings.
There's another enormous piece of unused space just up the road. The racecourse.

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