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MB Sports-complex - Continues to Give!

The silence surrounding the ‘going’s on’ at the Mercury Bay Multi-sports Park has been deafening. But don’t for one second imagine that frenetic activity has not been under-way to correct the Park’s blindingly obvious deficiencies. And the evidence is now there for all to see as desperate overnight watering proceeds using vast quantities of the Whitianga capacity in order to keep the multitude of sports grounds green.

But hold on a moment. I visited the Park myself yesterday in order to see for myself what has been going on our behalf to try to bring this giant embarrassment under control.

Firstly let it be known that between 12 noon and 3pm on Saturday 24 January, there was not one person using any facility at the Sports-park – not football, tennis, netball or any of the three rugby grounds, nor any of what must constitute the most extensive set of toilet facilities anywhere in this country – most of which thankfully remain un-completed. The only person to be seen in that entire time was a lone grounds-man who operates from a fully equipped workshop facility at the end of the 80 x 20m building that contains in addition what appear to be nascent office and changing facilities for a variety of non-existent sports.

Entry to the Park is through impressive, polished stainless steel security gates. The vast parking area is back-grounded by an equally vast block building known as the Toilet Block. The building is certainly impressive, and it is easy to see why the Mayor was "shocked" when he first saw its shell on the rise. But it was his Council that approved the plans for this this memorial to megalomania that Albert Speer would have proud of, but which is totally out of kilter for a town of some seven & a half thousand. This grows to 30 thousand odd over Christmas – but don’t try to tell me that any of those visitors are the slightest bit interested in this facility. Likewise locals continue to turn their backs on it, apart from what I am told is the desultory interest by a few netballers

But that’s not all. Our staff have presided over the design and construction of what must be the largest toilet block in the country that contains not just your every-day standard of public facilities, but rather top of the line ceramics, tap-ware and fit-out to be found anywhere outside of Sky-City, and even its Mr Morrison would be asking questions were this quality to be specified. But it is the numbers that are most impressive – no fewer than 10 separate facilities containing, either now or in the future three urinals, toilets and hand basins each.  Okay - delete the urinals for the female version!    

Well that’s the facilities – you can just imagine all the busy-body sports executives, marketing people and coaches rushing around from office to office justifying their salaries. And we can now see why Cr McLean is reported to have recently suggested that the Rugby Sevens could be run there without difficulty – no joking! The scale, and plan for the spectator facilities remain under wraps. At the present, the only view from the top of the building is over the football ground - surely they are not planning a grandstand up there? Nothing would surprise me based on what I saw yesterday.  

Now let us examine the Park itself.

Everything from the stainless entrance gates to the netball goalposts are of the highest quality. But behind all this hardware lies the greatest sports-park debacle that this country has probably ever seen. This has resulted from the nefarious (and secret!) arrangement entered into by former Mayor Lux and Mr Hopper and his various companies. This arrangement allowed for Whitianga Waterways to dispose of the mountain of waste material extracted from the canals as the basis for the turf.  He would otherwise have had to dispose of elsewhere at huge cost. And under the terms of the “secret deed,” he was able to obtain a non-tendered’ contract to build the park - an utterly obnoxious process that should have been nailed by the Auditor General.

What complicates the situation even further to the advantage of Mr Hopper and Waterways is that the whole secret deal was worked around a cross-crediting arrangement whereby WW Ltd were able to avoid Development Contributions (or equivalent at that time!) in return for providing the Park. Don’t ever imagine for one moment that the boys from Whitianga Waterways lacked acumen – they knew what they were doing from the outset. The only ones kept in the dark were the poor bloody rate-payers, and the councilors at the time who were forbidden from seeing the document. 

It is clear that either inadequate engineering research was undertaken by Council, or WW Ltd were enabled to undertake the work in the full knowledge that the canal material would compact and prove impermeable to water that is liberally applied to the expensive and patented turf placed over the top. Three years’ experience and frustration culminated in the awarding by Council of a further contract before Christmas to in effect ‘mole-drain a proportion of the Park as a 'trial' to overcome this unfortunate mistake that prevented drainage, and killed the turf. And surprise, surprise, there was apparently no ‘correction’ clause in the original build contract requiring Waterways to sort out the drainage problem – it is just another burden for the ratepayer, unless our legal people can come up with some way of holding WW Ltd. liable - faint hope of that! 

So even after running the total bill up to at least $13m – almost twice the original budget, the park that has given so much to Whitianga (well at least all the contractors and ‘subbies’ who hold up the bars at the Whitianga and Fishing Clubs, that is!) continues to give liberally at the expense of every ratepayer. Council approved another $100,000 for the job, but based on the work that I was able to observe yesterday, I would doubt if the entire park will be completed for less than $500,000. I have photos to back up this prediction.

The work has been undertaken in collaboration with advisors from the Turf Institute of New Zealand, and Sports Foundation, but there is no way that anyone can be sure that it will be successful. There are substantial piles of extracted top-soil at one end, and metre high rows of turf at another indicating the scale of the operation - that is just the football ground! The metre wide slits have been filled with sand, so again there will be a waste material disposal problem to overcome.   

In the meantime, Council has signed another 5 year lease on Lyons Park with the Rugby Union thus finally accepting that they have no intention of being bullied into changing from their perfectly satisfactory current facilities. Council was told this right from the start when Cr McLean was loudly proclaiming the necessity and virtues of the proposed new park back in 2009/10 when he was chair of the Community Board.     

I well understand that there will many who read this who will react by saying that it is all water under the bridge, and too late to change, so why continue to go on about it? Well for one very good reason – our newly empowered Mayor has other grandiose projects of the go that are being undertaken in the absence of verifiable research, all of which can be loosely categorised as ‘legacy’ projects. He gives every sign on wishing to stand again in order to ensure that they reach completion regardless of the effects on Council finances.

I cannot emphasize enough that recent events point to there being an advanced level of incompetence at the highest levels in the organisation, and insufficient experienced councillors to maintain control. Certain staff members have made repeated grave mis-judgements in the finance and capital works areas over the years, and others recently recruited show a distinct tendency towards maintaining the ‘gravy-train' while they are still able. There is in other words, an entrepreneurial spirit abroad that is totally inappropriate in an organisation of this size and nature. Instead of ‘minding the knitting’, we have an out of control ‘rah-rah’ atmosphere that seriously contributed to the debacle known variously, but mainly as the Mercury Bay Sports-complex. And that should be sufficient to warrant a post of this nature.

I challenge anyone reading this post to take the trouble to visit the complex, and make their own assessment. And then join in a concerted demand for a full scale open enquiry into the entire debacle - not just a whitewash of Leach's Council. They could start by releasing the unredacted version of the Deloitte report that was undertaken with the specific intention of nailing the staff who contributed to the disaster, but who are by no means the prinicpal culprits - simply convenient scapegosts. 




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Reader Comments (2)

Well done Bill, pretty much covers it. Pity the ratepayers locally werent as observant as you are and took the trouble to have a look where their money is spent. I doubt if the majority have ever had the interest or inclination to take a few minutes to have a look.
Hammond after repeated requests refuses to give details of the arrangements made with Hoppers WW and we just continue to pay.
We are an apathetic community sadly and get what we deserve.
Bill Muir

January 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBill Muir

It seems to me that the M.B.C.Bd. has some culpability for any problem. They are the elected members on the spot with the chance to call on staff for a report on progress when the project is underway. Did they? If they did not know what was being spent and who and what was being planned then they were not doing the task they were elected for by the ratepayers. Sometimes TCDC staff are left with the job of guiding elected members from abdication. An example is the order papers for the six weekly meetings. Staff organise with no input from the chairperson or elected members. What power this gives on what happens at meetings.

February 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeter H Wood.

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