Editorial: Bring back the bat

By whichever name you choose to call it, Christchurch's once-premier stadium for winter and summer sport and outdoor concerts appears to have had its day.

The earthquakes did not discriminate between it being AMI Stadium, Jade Stadium or Lancaster Park. Structural damage to the stands and liquefaction across the playing surface mean it is pretty unlikely the facility, as Christchurch people now know it, has much of a future.

The Christchurch City Council's insurers, Civic Assurance, last week declared AMI Stadium could somehow be repaired.

At the same time, a possible repair cost of about $45 million started being bandied about.

Civic's beliefs come in spite of the council already having written-off the facility and committing to build an approximately $500m covered stadium on the former Turners and Growers site, closer to the new central business district.

Christchurch residents who regularly travel past the damaged Phillipstown ground are now presented with the quite bizarre sight of two massive stands rising into the sky on either side of a gap where the Hadlee Stand used to be.

Before the mid-1990s, when rugby went professional and sport started becoming increasingly corporate, the Victory Park Board ensured Lancaster Park was shared almost evenly between summer and winter codes.

After that, rugby became increasingly dominant and the ground started a transformation that continued almost until the start of the quakes two years ago.

Cricket found itself increasingly edged out over those years, forcing authorities to search for new, more friendly grounds that cater for generally smaller crowds. The brewing controversy about redeveloping the oval in the hallowed fields of South Hagley Park for international cricket had its genesis in the rise of professional rugby.

Rebuilding Lancaster Park as the city's number one sporting and outside rock concert facility makes no sense. The development of a stadium on the long-empty Turners and Growers block between Lichfield and Tuam streets, and Madras and Barbadoes streets, has been recognised in the central city blueprint as a priority project, albeit one at the bottom of the list and not without some contention, given the success of the "temporary" AMI Stadium in Addington.

Neither does developing the Hagley Park Oval beyond its current wicket-block upgrade make much sense. Any such expansion in the city's shared and much-loved green space, protected by Parliament, will cause major ructions and raise the spectre of legal action for years to come.

The solution seems simple. Turn Lancaster Park back into a cricket ground. Fix up the silt-riddled, pockmarked playing surface. Either demolish the damaged Deans and Paul Kelly stands and replace them with smaller stands, or take off the top tiers of those two existing structures and make safe what is left as part of a much more intimate operation. Then add an open embankment or two.

Such a move would allow the next generation of cricket fans to experience the battle between bat and ball at Lancaster Park on a warm summer's afternoon, just as their parents and grandparents used to.

The Press