John Tamihere speaking to media at Chamberlain Park (PHOTO: Alex Braae)
John Tamihere speaking to media at Chamberlain Park (PHOTO: Alex Braae)

PoliticsApril 14, 2019

Tamihere sets out his stall on the future of Auckland sport venues

John Tamihere speaking to media at Chamberlain Park (PHOTO: Alex Braae)
John Tamihere speaking to media at Chamberlain Park (PHOTO: Alex Braae)

John Tamihere has launched his first policy slate ahead of the Auckland mayoralty election, making a pitch for the conservative vote. Alex Braae was at Chamberlain Park golf course for the launch.

John Tamihere has picked a side on some of Auckland’s most contentious issues around parks and facilities. Depending on your point of view, he’ll either be standing in the way of much needed change, or preserving what people are passionate about.

At Chamberlain Park golf club, a public course just up the road from Western Springs, Tamihere set out positions on three key issues. He wants Chamberlain Park to remain an 18 hole golf course. He wants Speedway to be given a stay of execution on being forced out of Western Springs. And he wants to keep Eden Park as the city’s premier stadium, and hold more events there.

Each of these causes comes with a battle-hardened base of supporters already in place. On each of the causes, there’s arguably a pretty strong case to make that more citizens would benefit from change. But in a local government election, where turnout is low and voters may end up choosing based on a few key issues, bringing those campaigns on-side could have a significant electoral upside.

Tamihere was full of memories about the places he was talking about. “Like any young people in this area, we used to recycle balls quite regularly,” he said of his childhood growing up near Chamberlain Park. “Graciously people used to pay us a shilling now and then, to buy their balls back.” There was much nodding at the word “shilling” – a coin that was phased out in 1967. He also spoke fondly of Western Springs speedway as the place he met his first girlfriend.

“Part of the announcement today on our behalf, is to bring solace to the good people who cherish this park,” he said in his introduction. Under current Council plans, Chamberlain Park will be reduced from 18 holes to nine, with other community facilities put in place for the many Aucklanders who aren’t golfers. A judicial review has held up work, which was scheduled to get under way in February this year, so the battle goes on. “No-one will touch Chamberlain Park golf course, in the event we’re lucky enough to get your votes, your family’s votes, and your friend’s votes,” Tamihere declared.

That was mirrored in his pitch on Speedway, which has recently been forced out of Western Springs without necessarily having a future home to move to. They too have been given a short stay of execution, and had many years of warning that change would be coming, so that the park could be redeveloped into a cricket oval.

Speedway were recently told by Regional Facilities Auckland chairman Andrew Barnes that in the grand scheme of things, they just weren’t getting the crowds in to make their continued tenancy worthwhile. He claimed that a season of Speedway was worth the equivalent of one and a half rugby games. That sort of talk was given short shrift by an indignant John Tamihere. “It’s absolutely inappropriate to deal with people with the level of arrogance and entitlement in the way that Council officials deal with ratepayers, who actually pay their salaries.” He said that given they didn’t yet have anywhere else to go, Speedway should be allowed safety and security.

Dozens of people turned out in support of John Tamihere and Christine Fletcher (Image / Alex Braae)

On the stadiums, he potentially picked a fight in the future by declaring that money had to stop being spent on unnecessary facilities. That meant Mt Smart Stadium, which has a looming upgrade bill in the hundreds of millions of dollars, would probably end up on the chopping block. Instead, he said that money would be better spent on Eden Park, a recent recipient of a $63 million dollar bailout from the Council. Would the Warriors be happy with having to move house? Probably not – they fought tooth and nail to avoid it in 2016. But Tamihere is talking about winning three terms, so it might be possible to kick for touch on that for now.

To help make that case, he was joined by Dan Carpenter from the Eden Park Residents Association. They’re the ones who want more stuff going on at Eden Park, rather than the competing Neighbourhood Association which wants peace and quiet, thank you very much. Mr Carpenter said the stadium needed to sustain itself financially, and there was a new mood in the suburb which hadn’t been widely heard. “What we’ve seen over recent times is that Eden Park as a local neighbour is really supportive of us as a community. One of the constraints that Eden Park has is an inability to easily host concerts. As residents, we think concerts are fantastic.” There’s also the not insignificant point – particularly in relation to the proposed waterfront stadium – that Eden Park already exists, while the waterfront stadium does not.

The contrasting styles of Tamihere and his running mate, councillor Christine Fletcher, were also on full display. It was their first “hit-out” as a duo, and it was clear Fletcher intends to be the sober and serious foil to the sometimes brash and blustery Tamihere. That could be politically necessary, as the moves made in the policy announcement could end up pissing off as many people as it pleases.

One such opponent to the Eden Park changes, for example, will be former Prime Minister Helen Clark. She was an outspoken critic during the saga over Sir Ray Avery’s aborted charity concert last year. Had it crossed John Tamihere’s mind that his former boss, and the PM who effectively booted him from the Labour Party, would be unhappy with more events at Eden Park?

The question was put in the post-announcement press conference, and Fletcher and Tamihere answered at basically the same time. “I hope she’ll come to one,” offered Fletcher diplomatically. “Oh, well that upsets me immensely,” laughed Tamihere in contrast. “I’ll pay for her Prozac.”

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