Field of dreams

Last updated 05:00 17/04/2014

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OPINION: Editorial: We have nothing against big green fields. Lovely grassed areas for children to throw themselves around have a great deal to commend them, even in their most unadorned state.

So we protested when the Invercargill City Council wanted to turn the former RSA bowling green fronting Esk St into a parking lot in 2006.

Mercifully it did not happen and now the site is envisaged to be an important recreational area in the proposed inner-city upgrade.

Then when the council suggested in 2011 that getting rid of some of the quarter-acre suburban parks around town might enable it to keep nearby ones to a higher standard, we encouraged all neighbourhoods to be acutely vigilant on their own behalf in case the authorities undervalue any one of those little fields of dreams.

Admittedly, we have lately had some issues with Rugby Park. But that was more about the politics than the paddock.

That said, there are limits to our inclination to savour fields for their own sake. The fact is we do have an abundance of them and there is a great deal of far-too-idle field around the former Surrey Park school that should long ago have been put to other use.

The school closed nearly 15 years ago and the council was, from the get-go, keen to buy it.

The Ministry of Education did not even start the process of disposing of the land until 2010. Before which it took the approach that although it had not wanted to keep the school open, the site might yet have possible use for "other educational purposes".

Certainly the disruptions of the 2004-2005 review of Invercargill schooling, and the widespread closures that resulted, might have delayed matters somewhat - but come on. But by any standard this has been a sluggardly process and there is still no end in sight.

The council points out that it even had to supply the same information several times over, after the Government changed the company contracted to dispose of the land.

This is a sizeable site with a lot of strategic potential and there is no shortage of conflicting ambitions for it.

Mayor Tim Shadbolt would like the council to extend its pensioner village or create more parking for the stadium.

But elsewhere in the council, there is talk of a possible BMX track, small sports field and a pedestrian entry from Yarrow St to the ILT Stadium Southland.

What makes the Surrey Park case all the more dispiriting is that it pre-dated the closure carnage of 2004-2005.

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Invercargill is now dotted with what Shadbolt ripely, but not wrongly, calls the "rotting corpses" of former schools.

And this in spite of assurances at the time that the buildings would not lie derelict and the land in purgatory.

Well it has happened. At least at Surrey Park there is welcome community use of the former school building.

But all that lovely field space has been withheld from potential buyers - be it the council or anyone else - for far too long. The need to offer it back to its original owners, and to Maori for Treaty settlement reasons, may represent some delay but hardly of this scale.

Dealing with that school land has been way too far down departmental agendas.

 

- The Southland Times

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