Shared college site no longer a one-horse race

The Ministry of Education is in talks with NZ Thoroughbred Racing about Waterlea Racecourse in Blenheim. (File photo)
STUFF

The Ministry of Education is in talks with NZ Thoroughbred Racing about Waterlea Racecourse in Blenheim. (File photo)

An early front-runner for the site of Blenheim's new colleges is back in the race. 

The Ministry of Education has met with NZ Racing about buying part of Waterlea Racecourse, in Blenheim, despite the Marlborough clubs rebuffing earlier interest.

Ministry education infrastructure service manager Kim Shannon said the meeting this week was to ensure "we fully understand all factors regarding the Waterlea Racecourse's current position".

The ministry wanted to better understand the organisational structure and operation of the racing codes and clubs, Shannon said.

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Negotiations with Montford Corporation about a vineyard site on Alabama Rd, a preferred option at the end of last year, were on hold while the racecourse option was investigated further, Shannon said.

Waterlea Racecourse, in Blenheim, is still on the table for the co-location of the colleges. (File photo)
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

Waterlea Racecourse, in Blenheim, is still on the table for the co-location of the colleges. (File photo)

The ministry is looking for about 15 hectares to build a $63 million campus for Marlborough Boys' College and Marlborough Girls' College.

It approached the Marlborough Racing Club and the Marlborough Harness Racing Club over a year ago about buying half the 31-hectare racecourse, close to the Girls' College in Springlands.

The clubs refused to sell, saying they needed the space for galloping and thoroughbred racing.

Marlborough Racing Club president Eric Bowers has previously opposed the sale of Waterlea Racecourse land. (File photo)
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

Marlborough Racing Club president Eric Bowers has previously opposed the sale of Waterlea Racecourse land. (File photo)

Marlborough Racing Club president Eric Bowers declined to comment on the ministry's renewed interest, saying he had signed a new confidentiality agreement.

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New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing chief executive Bernard Saundry​ confirmed representatives were in discussions with both the ministry and the club, but could not comment further.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing managed policies, funding and support for clubs that raced thoroughbreds.

The Ministry of Education has frozen negotiations with Montford Corporation about buying the Alabama Rd site for the new ...
RICKY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

The Ministry of Education has frozen negotiations with Montford Corporation about buying the Alabama Rd site for the new colleges. (File photo)

Shannon said the ministry was aware the racecourse owners had previously opposed the sale.

"Our preference is to always acquire school sites by way of agreement and we are not considering the use of compulsory acquisition at this time to acquire the Waterlea Racecourse, or any other property in Blenheim," she said.

The ministry was still evaluating "a number of potential options" for the colleges, and all options were still on the table, including a third site at Battys Rd, she said.

A Battys Rd site is still being evaluated, the Ministry of Education says. (File photo)
SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

A Battys Rd site is still being evaluated, the Ministry of Education says. (File photo)

"While this evaluation is ongoing, our discussions with Montford Corporation are on hold."

The 24-hectare Alabama Rd site was in an area deemed not suitable for residential development as geotechnical investigations showed a risk of liquefaction.

But the ministry had completed a variety of tests at the site, Shannon said.

"We are satisfied that with the appropriate engineering responses, the Alabama Rd site is suitable for a school."

The ministry had not done any on-site testing of the Battys Rd site, Shannon said.

The new schools were scheduled to open in 2021.

 - The Marlborough Express

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