Lancaster Park faces an uncertain future

Last updated 05:00 29/09/2012
Lancaster Park
DON SCOTT

MEMORIES: Christchurch's once proud Lancaster Park is deteriorating by the day.

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Lancaster Park has fallen into disrepair but Richard Knowler recalls when it was a sporting venue of international standing.

Lancaster Park sits and rots.

The Hadlee Stand has already been demolished and there remains much uncertainty about the fate of the Deans and western stands.

The ground's turf has been stripped away and anyone who has flown over the arena would be reminded of when it served as a potato patch during World War I.

Lancaster Park's owner, the Christchurch City Council, are still locked in discussions with their insurers but no-one is naive enough to believe the ground will be restored to its former glory.

The CCC have noted in their draft annual plan they would like to receive $143.2 million as a result of their insurance claims. So, like many areas of Christchurch affected by the earthquakes, Lancaster Park's future is highly uncertain.

The chances of a high-profile sports match being played at the site grow even more remote as each week rolls by.

Rugby and cricket, which used to stage international and first-class matches on the site, have already switched their focus to areas which have a lower-risk of liquefaction and the Christchurch Central Development Unit's blueprint anchor programme proposed a covered 35,000-seat stadium for the former Turners & Growers site in Tuam Street.

But it is worth recalling that some of New Zealand's most cherished sporting moments were played out at Lancaster Park, a ground established for athletics events in 1881.

It wasn't just the All Blacks, Springboks and British and Irish Lions or touring international cricket teams that once graced it.

Peter Snell sensationally set world records in the 800m and 880 yards running on grass at the ground in 1962, Davis Cup tennis ties were played in the early 1900s, rugby league matches were hosted and Pope John Paul II staged a public mass in 1986.

Still, there is little time for nostalgia in Christchurch nowadays. Time passes. Decisions must be made.

The Crusaders and Canterbury moved to their new site at Addington in the autumn, Canterbury cricket are hell-bent on using Hagley Park as their base and Athletics Canterbury are eager to build an all-weather track at Burnside Park.

So what now for Lancaster Park?

It's a question no-one can answer but many have an opinion on.

For some nostalgic sports nuts the thought of the historic ground in Waltham being wiped out and left as a jumble of broken concrete and weeds leaves them cold.

Anything is possible. Its fate may lie in the hands of property developers who will happily point out that sporting memories are best left for the almanacs and glossy books.

Canterbury Rugby Football Union (CRFU) boss Hamish Riach is one who is hopeful the ground can still be of benefit to the city's ratepayers.

"I don't want to see it become a wasteland . . . I would like to think that, in some fashion, it could be a space or facility the community could access or use. That it would be a reminder of all the great occasions that were held there," Riach said.

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Like several administrators, ex-players and supporters of the province's achievements at the ground, he possesses a book documenting the ground's memorable sporting moments.

"It's pretty special. You would hope there is something to acknowledge the history of the place but you could also make that argument for every block of land in the city couldn't you?"

Athletics were crucial in the ground being established around 130 years ago but there seems little likelihood of them returning. Instead they have been eager to establish an all-weather running track at Burnside Park after QEII Stadium was hammered by the earthquakes.

Burnside is viewed as a logical destination because being on the city's western fringe means it is close to the airport, a clutch of motels and some secondary schools.

Liquefaction ruined QEII Stadium and Lancaster Park and Athletics Canterbury president Kevin Jago sees no sense in tempting fate by going to the Waltham ground.

"It would be great that Lancaster Park gets used for something . . . But it has never come-up in our discussions. It has never been mentioned as being able to have a track."

While the CRFU have shifted to the temporary stadium in Addington, which can also host rugby league and soccer matches, Canterbury Cricket have already started re-developing the Hagley Oval wicket.

Neil Cornelius, the Cantabrians club president and a former Canterbury representative forward, said he can still recollect a clutch of sporting events at the ground spanning back to when the touring Kiwis, a team stacked with ex-servicemen, played Canterbury after WWII.

"Lancaster Park has been such an integral part of the city. It will be a pity if rugby is not played there again - maybe a good place for a cricket ground."

But Canterbury Cricket and the CCC are understood to be working on a proposal to host World Cup matches in 2015. Bid documents are due by early November and Hagley Oval is expected to be promoted as their ground in that submission.

With Porritt Park also extensively damaged, Canterbury Hockey have since relocated to Nunweek Park.

"The idea of going to Lancaster Park and trying to put a sport like hockey in there - which is not a major like rugby - would be from left-field," Canterbury Hockey boss Rod Templeton said.

Canterbury Hockey were working with the council, Sport New Zealand and Sport Canterbury on a "hub" concept where several sporting codes could utilise the same facility.

As insurance claim negotiations continue, John Filsell, the council's sport and recreation manager, said it was too early to ponder what lies ahead for Lancaster Park.

"It's difficult to even envisage a future in any shape or form without that part of the process being completed."

- Canterbury

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