Sports organisations on doomed mission to build on Hagley Park

Two fundamental Canterbury forces are clashing at a time when the province has more important calls on its energy and enterprise.

Sport, from which we draw so much of our identity, and Hagley Park, our most hallowed turf, are contesting. It is a conflict that should never have occurred.

The push from Canterbury Cricket and Sport Canterbury to build arenas on the park is understandable in that both have sound reasons to find new homes for their many participants and supporters. Cricket has for years been seeking a ground from which it can host test matches, and athletics and swimming have been left homeless by the the post-earthquake destruction of QEII.

These are not trifling matters as Christchurch and its surrounding areas seek to rebuild the material things that made this such a good place to live. The ability of sports people to have first-rate facilities and for their supporters to gather at the sidelines has been a healthy tradition that began soon after the arrival of the First Four Ships.

The rowing contest on the Avon between the young bucks from England and the young work-fit Ngai Tahu - perhaps the first sports contest in the infant colony - began a great tradition, not only of inter- racial sport, but of sport as a community activity.

The hundreds of sports clubs that have since been formed in the province, the facilities they have built and the talented young men and women they have nurtured reached a high point in 1974, in the hosting of the Commonwealth Games at QEII.

The event displayed the organising skill of sports organisations and the generous support they received from local bodies. The games were complicated to run; the stadium was a city-council project. That, in turn, displayed the conflicts inherent in big sport's need for big venues - conflicts at play in the present row.

The argument about where to put the Commonwealth Games' stadium was at the centre of a mayoral election, with claims that the New Brighton site was so isolated it would be little used after the event and building it was prohibitively expensive.

Siting is the core issue in Canterbury Cricket's and Sport Canterbury's wish to use parts of Hagley Park, but, unlike 1974, glowing new facilities are likely to emerge.

Both organisations face two formidable hurdles in the form of the law and public opinion.

At least two statutes govern the use of the park and both, in effect, guarantee the unimpeded right of citizens to access the domain and deny its sequestration.

It was this fact of law that led to the creation of Lancaster Park - a place that sports bodies could fence and charge admission - and that is likely to come into play should the cricket test venue and aqua-centre proposals progress. From a Christchurch community evidently overwhelmingly determined to protect the park a legal challenge would surely emerge.

But the odds are that the proposals will not get so far. That involving the aqua centre seems not even half-baked. That involving cricket is more thought through, but has split the cricket clubs and has met sustained opposition from citizens.

City council officials have been talking to Canterbury Cricket, but a final decision requires the vote of councillors, who will take notice of the gale of public opinion blowing in favour of Hagley's sanctity.

That will not be lessened by the assertions that an international cricket venue will scarcely impede the park's unbroken green. Fencing, lighting, embankments and advertising hoardings cannot be disguised. In Hagley Park they would be a eyesore intolerable to Christchurch.

Sited elsewhere, of course, they could contribute to a venue exciting and purpose-made, as rugby has shown with its rapid and almost controversy-free move to Addington.

Canterbury Cricket and Sports Canterbury should show the same pair of clean heels and abandon their doomed quest. All that quake-cleared space beckons.

The Press