Over $1.5 million has been spent on preparing stadium-standard grass in Canterbury but it may never be used. Geoff Longley reports.
A field of dreams lies out in Ohoka, North Canterbury which may never be brought into play.
Almost 1.5 hectares of high quality turf worth about $1.5m has been fertilised, manicured and watered on leased land for just over a year now with no-one having set their sprigs into it.
Many thousands of taxpayers dollars are being poured into its upkeep with an estimated cost about $10,000 a month to maintain it on the off chance it could be needed for use in Canterbury or at some other stadium in New Zealand.
The specialist hard-wearing turf, "Eclipse" from Australian company HG Sports Turf Pty Ltd was originally ordered to be installed in the old AMI Stadium after the February 22 earthquake last year.
It is the same "ready to play" surface that had been introduced successfully at the ground in 2008 and used elsewhere in New Zealand at Eden Park and Waikato Stadium and also at several major venues in Australia.
Only problem is there is nowhere to plant it permanently in the province so it sits there soaking up the rural Canterbury climate.
Government contributed $4m to provide a replacement turf for the AMI in Phillipstown to host rugby again after it needed repair following liquefaction of the drainage system and mounding of the playing surface.
However as structural issues with the stands at the ground arose last year creating insurance wrangles the temporary facility in Addington at Rugby League Park was devised and fast-tracked.
Government funding was directed to that and useable turf from the original venue ended up being laid there effectively leaving a football field sitting spare at Ohoka.
Michael Aitken, the general manager of community services for the Christchurch City Council, defended the retention and maintenance of the turf despite lacking a permanent home.
He said the turf was a valuable short term asset for the city and maybe used to repair damaged turf at Addington or other venues in New Zealand.
Aitken said the turf had been ordered not long after the earthquake, land leased and construction was well underway before doubts began to crystallise about the future of the old AMI.
Plenty of turf from AMI was rolled up and relaid at Addington with a small amount, 1755sqm, being topped up from Ohoka.
"Some turf was damaged at AMI but the ground at Addington is considerably smaller so didn't need as much," Aitken said.
"We believe it is important to have a contingency plan with the turf for Addington or any other stadium in New Zealand."
He believed it was more cost effective to keep the turf living at its Ohoka nursery than brown it off and sever existing arrangements.
Differences of opinion have surfaced over how long the turf can be useable in its nursery state.
Turf experts spoken to by the Press firmly believe it only has a life span of 2-3 years before needing to be resewn or transplanted to a permanent facility with the appropriate drainage.
HG Sports Turf managing director Hamish Sutherland from Melbourne referred all questions to Aitken.
Aitken said it was his belief the turf was usable for five years in its nursery form. He understood replacement occured every five years whether in the nursery or at a stadium.
Aitken said when the new permanent stadium in Christchurch is built in the city precinct the turf will be ready for immediate use. If the stadium development was delayed beyond five years then new turf would be needed.
Aitken said some consideration was given to using the reinforced turf at Hagley Oval with the upgrade to the cricket playing surface but it was felt the ground would not need such heavy duty turf.
Should the new stadium in Christchurch be a covered one, the turf at Ohoka would not be suitable for the facility.
- The Press
Is the Canterbury team 'mentally soft'?Related story: North Harbour stun hapless Canterbury team