Athletics rejects council preference for Show Grounds

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2013

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Athletics officials are adamant they want their new track-and-field facilities at Burnside Park not the Nga Puna Wai sports cluster site favoured by the Christchurch City Council.

The Burnside Rugby Club also supports in principle a sports hub at Burnside Park provided the council looks at the park's future in totality.

Athletics Canterbury and Athletics New Zealand want to a build a new eight-lane all-weather running track at Burnside to replace their traditional home at the now-demolished QEII Park.

Future development at Burnside Park would include a grandstand that could face a rugby ground on one side, with an all-weather rugby field to be developed later.

Last July the council voted to grant $300,000 to the track-and-field project next financial year and $6.3 million the following year.

But Athletics NZ high performance spokesman Terry Lomax, one of the key negotiators behind the project, said the council was now "really keen on making us go to Nga Puna Wai".

Lomax said the council seemed to "pushing hard" for athletics to be "an anchor tenant" for a sports hub at Nga Puna Wai, on the southern side of the Canterbury A and Park complex in Christchurch's southwest.

"It solves their problems of course but doesn't really satisfy the sport's needs," he said.

"It is too far away from our core demographic - most of our major clubs are in the [northwest] area - and its transport links are far from easily accessible. It is further away from the airport and accommodation than Burnside Park."

Lomax was also concerned it could take much longer to get a track at Nga Puna Wai.

"They haven't done the geotech [testing of the land for potential earthquake risk] and some of the land would need zone-changing.

"Although they assure us that we will be first built it could be another 18 months at least. That would mean almost four years without an all-weather track which is pretty ridiculous for the second biggest city in the country and for a sport that has $1.8 million a year support from High Performance Sport New Zealand."

Lomax, a former Canterbury and New Zealand high jump champion, came home to Christchurch five weeks ago to help set up a new high performance unit.

But he said it would be hard to attract people to the programme without all-weather facilities for training and competition.

He said some elite athletes, including shot putter Tom Walsh and middle distance runner Angie Smit, and coaches Andrew Maclennan and Maria Hassan, were still based in Christchurch, but others had left the city.

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"Fiona Morrison [a top Canterbury hurdler] has done four or five competitions in Auckland because it's almost easier to go there than to drive down to Timaru to compete [on Aorangi Park's all-weather track] with very little competition."

Lomax said the council seemed to "have reservations about Burnside Park because of the effect on other users" but it could be "sorted to the benefit of those affected" with further investigation.

"They say local opinion at loss of a green space is another reason but again there is a lot of vacant green space for sports fields where QEII used to be and on the edges of the Avon.

"It seems that athletics is not big enough to be given favours that the privileged sports of cricket and rugby get."

He was "yet to speak to a sports person with some athletics interest or knowledge that does not think Burnside Park would be a great venue".

New Zealand track great Dick Tayler backed Lomax, saying Burnside was "a more logical place" for an athletics venue than Nga Puna Wai.

Tayler, who won the 10,000m gold medal in the 1974 Commonwealth Games at QEII Park, said he had always felt Burnside would be "ideal" for "a big sporting hub".

"I spoke to people way back in 1970 when the Commonwealth Games were allocated to Christchurch and said the ultimate place to build a stadium would be Burnside Park mainly because of its location close to the airport and accommodation and easy access to town."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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