The fate of the horse racing industry in the Bay of Plenty may be about to take another twist with a proposed all-weather track being proposed in Papapoa on what is believed to be land linked to a Rotorua Māori trust.
The Messara Report produced last year recommended the closing of the racetrack and Rotorua and a focus on the Racing Tauranga’s track at Gate Pa.
However, changing industry and political dynamics mean that this strategy may not be straightforward in implementation.
Racing Minister Winston Peters appointed senior Australian racing expert John Messara in April 2018 to review the New Zealand racing industry’s governance structures and provide recommendations on future directions for the industry.
The authorities received submission – The Mud believes the largest number came from Rotorua interests demanding the track remain as a central focus in the tourist city.
Discussions around the closures continue, but it seems the Minister has new ideas on how racing in the Bay of Plenty might look.
The Mud attended the Waitangi Day race day at Gate Pa and found the Racing Tauranga thriving. There was obvious irony of going to races on land renowned as the place where Māori defeated English and settler forces in 1864, before departing the site.
However, the number attending was greater than expected given the combination of a national holiday, bright sunshine, free entry and good quality races.
Racing Tauranga chairman Frank Vosper told The Mud that the club has been offered a state-of-the-art new track at Papamoa by Winston Peters, but it prefers the current location.
The plan emerging is for the building an all-weather track to serve not only Tauranga – New Zealand’s fastest growing city – but also Rotorua and Whakatane.
A number of options exist, including, it is understood, the area known as Papamoa East – Te Tumu, which has been the subject of various developmental reports in the past.
The area is administered by the Te Tumu Landowners Group (TTLG), comprising a number of land trusts and commercial interests. The trusts make up 87 percent of the ownership of the 760-hectare Te Tumu Urban Growth Area, according to a report by the accountancy firm Deloitte. A key owner, however, is Te Tumu Kaituna 14 and 11B2 Trusts, which is made of Ngati Whakaue iwi land trusts and Te Arawa iwi.
The report notes the extensive commercial experience the iwi already has through its interests in the Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust, including the Rotorua, Central Mall, Trade Central Retail Centre Rotorua, and the planned Rotorua Lakefront development.
The link to the commercially-based iwi operations brings bring the circle back to the Rotorua race track, where Ngati Whakaue also has ownership of at least half of the land.
Building an all-weather track at Papamoa would fall nicely into the Minister’s regional growth dynamic, with immediate impacts rather than the dreary years of waiting for trees to grow. Forcing Racing Tauranga to move to the dunes east of the city might be more difficult but it would also free up valuable land for much-needed housing development in the city.