Decision on golf course lease delayed

Councillors Don Paterson and Robert Lee at the Springfield Golf Club in Rotorua. Photo / Laura Smith

A decision impacting the long-term future of Rotorua’s Springfield Golf Club has been delayed.

The 18-hole course was established in 1958 and the Rotorua Lakes Council bought the land in 1965.

The club’s lease will expire in 2027 and it has no right of renewal.

In recent years, the council has debated using the land for sports grounds as part of the proposed Westbrook Sports and Recreation Precinct or for housing, sparking community backlash.

In 2021, the Saving Springfield group collected 5017 signatures on a petition asking the council to declare the golf course a taonga and continue its lease.

The group was chaired by Robert Lee, who played at the course and went on to be elected to the council alongside fellow campaigner Don Paterson in 2022.

The council shelved the proposal last year as it worked on a new programme for sports fields and facilities that did not include changes to the course.

In a meeting last week, elected members were asked whether to offer a new 33-year lease to the club.

Council staff recommended including an alternative-use clause enabling early termination of the lease.

The council would need to give the club three years’ notice to terminate within the first three years, and one year’s notice afterwards.

Councillors were also given the options of not approving a new lease, or of approving a 10-year lease term with two rights-of-renewal and the alternative-use clause included after the first decade.

Active and engaged communities manager Rob Pitkethley said the club asked the council for early discussions as it wanted to invest in improvements.

Pitkethley said the club received legal advice 10 years was the minimum term it should take and had indicated to the council any less, and an alternative-use clause, would limit its ability to invest.

Rotorua Lakes Council corporate services group manager Thomas Collé. Photo / Laura Smith.

Corporate services group manager Thomas Collé said at about 33 hectares, the golf course was the council’s largest freehold landholding.

The alternative-use clause provided flexibility rather than having the land “locked up for a 33-year period on a $15,000 lease…“ he said.

Chief executive Andrew Moraes said using the clause would require a council decision and public consultation – two “high bars” to cross.

He expected further negotiations with the club following a council lease decision. Depending on the feedback, councillors may need to consider alternatives and vote again.

Lee told the meeting he believed the clause undermined the club’s security of tenure and potentially its ability to secure loans.

Saving Springfield President Robert Lee, before he became councillor Photo / File.

Paterson asked what was meant by an alternative use and Collé said: “Exactly what the word ‘alternative’ means, councillor.”

Collé said it would be for a future council and the community to decide.

Before the council voted on the matter, councillor Trevor Maxwell, who attended via video link, excused himself to leave early.

Lee – who had been criticised earlier in the meeting for leaving chambers and missing a vote on fluoridation infrastructure – called for the discussion to stop and continue at the next council meeting.

“We have lost councillor Maxwell at a critical time here. He would be able to participate in voting on amendments and whatever else.”

Deputy mayor Sandra Kai Fong called for the council to instead direct Moraes to negotiate to offer a 33-year lease with an initial term of three to 10 years before the alternative-use clause was included, with the final lease be approved by the council.

Deputy mayor Sandra Kai Fong. Photo / Laura Smith.

Lee’s motion, seconded by Paterson, was taken first. It passed, so Kai Fong’s was not voted on.

Mayor Tania Tapsell, Kai Fong and councillors Gregg Brown and Fisher Wang voted against Lee’s motion.

Tapsell referred to a recommendation to include a clause in the draft lease agreeing that if the alternative-use clause was activated, the council would compensate the club for the fair value of golf course investments, subject to that infrastructure having been previously agreed to by the council.

She said the current council wanted to see the lease renewed, which was demonstrated by bringing the renewal discussion forward.

Given public interest in the outcome, it was “unfortunate” to see the decision deferred to July, when there was still no confirmation all councillors would be present, Tapsell said.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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