Battlelines drawn over golf club carve up

10:53 am on 29 January 2018

Battle lines are being drawn over the proposed carve up of a public golf course in New Plymouth.

The proposed carve up of the Fitzroy Golf Course has residents riled up.

The proposed carve up of the Fitzroy Golf Course has residents riled up. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

About 200 people - close to the entire membership of the Fitzroy Golf Club - turned up to a public meeting at the club house last night to vent their frustration at the plan.

Mayor Neil Holdom says selling off half the course to developers could net the council up to $50 million, but golfers and residents say it is valuable greenspace and should be retained.

Local resident and regional councillor Craig Williamson chaired the meeting.

Mr Williamson said he feared the proposed sell-off could be the thin edge of the wedge and other reserves could also be at threat.

But he said there was hope for the club in the form of a 2012 council report which spelled out its right to renew its 21-year lease when it expired in 2023.

"Council have looked at this before and they kicked it into touch because it's too hard.

"And as far as I can see they can't legally kick them [the club] out of their lease. The golf club has got a right to be here.

"Neil Holdom's putting out a couple of options and basically he's saying to the community, 'you do this or your rates will go up'. Excuse me."

The club's president, Mike Earley, said the report was good news.

"That report, we're hoping it's a game changer. We believe that. I want to retain 18 holes of golf. That's our one ambition 18 holes of golf. That's what we are, that's what we want."

Local resident and lawyer Karen Venables had more good news for Mr Earley.

Around 200 people turned up to a public meeting on the proposed sale.

Around 200 people turned up to a public meeting on the proposed sale. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ms Venables told the meeting that according to her research even if the golf club were to fold, legally the land should remain green space.

"The really big point I was trying to make was that this land has been set aside and protected for future generations.

"And the first bit of land from what I can understand was set aside 1917.

"People in 1917 were saying this land is special and we should protect it so it's not for us, our generation, to give that away."

Ms Venables said it was ironic Mayor Holdom was championing the sale of the golf course.

"It's interesting that he campaigned on New Plymouth being the lifestyle capital of New Zealand, but then the thing that he is making his legacy is trying to get rid of the greenspace in New Plymouth."

Mr Holdom did not attend the meeting but said it was an important discussion.

"We realise they're a diverse range of views about whether we should borrow or increase rates or develop this land which represents just over one percent of our district's greenspace.

"But let's be clear this is public access greenspace. It's restricted to the enjoyment of 250 club members and other paying golfers."

Mr Holdom said the council had a legal opinion that it was possible to sell-off the golf club land and there was an incentive to do so.

"We see that taking an option to develop this publicly-owned land to fund new or improved recreational assets for our 80,000 residents is an option worth having a conversation with our community over."

The council plans to spend half of the money raised from any sale on infrastructure items such as extending the Coastal Walkway, or revamping the city's aquatic centre or indoor sports arena.

The other half would be used to create a property development fund.

That idea did not go down well with golfer Kevin Barriball.

"The perpetual fund that they got out of the Powerco shares sale ... we were told that in 10 years that we wouldn't be paying rates. Where is it now?

"Our rates are still going up so you develop another perpetual fund. What's that going to do? Nothing."

Mr Barriball favoured long-term borrowing for infrastructure projects.

As did Mr Williamson.

"Most councils around the country and around the world debt fund their long-term assets and they pay extraordinarily low interest rates on that debt.

"And they pay them off over a generation normally, or two, and that's the lifespan of the asset itself."

Other options for council funding floated at the meeting including chasing central government for a share of GST or oil and gas royalties.

But Mayor Holdom said he did not have time to wait.

"We've got a budget to sign off in less that six months and so we have to base it on what options we have today.

"And if I put in there a line item ... because this is a budget, it's all about dollars. If I put in a line item for government giving me a share of GST. What year would I put that in?

The council is currently calling for submissions on its 10-year plan which includes the carve up of Fitzroy Golf Club. The plan has to be signed off in June.

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