9 Mar 2016

Fears for kids' sport if park upgraded for Phoenix

10:48 am on 9 March 2016

Public access to a Wellington sportsfield will be restricted if the council approves a $550,000 turf upgrade for the city's professional football team, the Wellington Phoenix.

Club teams in action at Wellington's Martin Luckie Park.

Club teams in action at Wellington's Martin Luckie Park. Photo: Supplied

The council's governance committee will today debate whether the city's ratepayers should pay for the improvements at Martin Luckie Park in suburban Berhampore.

Council park, sport and recreation manager Paul Andrews said the upgrade was aimed primarily at providing a practice ground for the Phoenix but that it could be used by other top-level teams, such as the Hurricanes and the Lions rugby teams.

That has the park's current users fearing they will be turfed out if it is brought up to elite sports level.

Local Jessie Day said the park was always being used.

"When we moved here I thought 'how often is that park going to be used?' But honestly, there are people there every night of the week playing volleyball, ultimate frisbee, touch rugby - all sorts of stuff. It's really cool."

Victoria Hunters Rugby League Club executive director Kererua Savage said the club's 200 juniors would start training in less than a month, and they no longer had a home base.

"We're always worried because we feel like we're treated down in the pecking order, so anything like this is a big threat for the existence of our club," he said.

"It is quite difficult to swallow because there's other places that can be developed other than Martin Luckie Park, and I do realise that Wellington city hasn't got a proper strategy for how it deals with its professional teams, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the grass roots."

Councillor and mayoral contender Nicola Young did not believe it was a good way to spend more than $550,000.

"The council should stick to its core role, which is to run the city, provide community facilities like swimming pools, libraries, community playing fields," she said.

"Instead of which this is effectively giving playing fields to a professional company for highly trained professional athletes. I don't believe that's what ratepayers expect a city council to do."

Community, Sport and Recreation Committee chairman and councillor Paul Eagle said he would be voting for the upgrade despite having reservations.

The new turf would have an annual maintenance cost of $180,000, and he wanted to know where the idea came from and why, he said.

Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante

Phoenix skipper Andrew Durante Photo: Photosport

But Mr Andrews said the idea had been in the pipeline for eight months, and the upgrade was overdue.

People had been lighting fires on other playing fields recently, and because the turf was expensive the park might be fenced and bookings would be essential, he said.

"Because of the intended use it will be restricted. It won't have normal or competition training by community sport on it. The intention is that they will be used for training at that ASB, Phoenix, Lions, Hurricanes level."

Deputy mayor Justin Lester, who is also running for the top job this October, said the city had done several turf upgrades during the past five years and it was appropriate for the city to provide high-quality, all-weather turf for professional teams.

"This is about the turf, regardless of who's using it, they all need access to grass," he said.

"We need to ensure there's a pathway from that eight-year-old all the way through to the premiere or elite athletes. So if we want to accommodate teams in the cities, all the way through across that spectrum, we need to be able to deliver appropriate services."

Mr Lester said community groups could always use another one of the city's 50-odd playing fields.

The council will vote on the plan today and, if it is approved, work will start this month.

The Phoenix, who currently train at nearby Newtown Park, did not respond to calls from RNZ News.