BY MATTHEW HANSEN • 26/03/2018
Ladies and gentleman, if you’re even loosely aware of New Zealand speedway (and given your internet travels have led you here, there’s a strong chance you are), the sport needs your help.
As you’re probably aware, the future of Vodafone Speedway Western Springs has long been suspended in an awkward balancing act, as various forces (including a number of local residents) have put the venue’s future in question.
The speedway has since weathered a plethora of attacks on its existence, every time negotiating a ‘please sir can I have some more’ two-year deal, with that slow sinking feeling of doubt never really disappearing.
The latest is confirmation that Regional Facilities Auckland have posted ‘request for proposal’ documents, in a search for a group to take on the task of transforming the stadium into an International Cricket Stadium as March 2019 — the end of the current two-year agreement — nears.
The good bastards at Herald Sport did a good round up of that development earlier this month, which you can read by clicking here.
Either way, once again Western Spring is in crisis. Late last week they put a call to action out over social media for those that want them to continue to send a submission to the Auckland City Council — which can be done by emailing them at email@example.com
The speedway have said that they need 50,000 submissions to have been sent to the council by 8pm this coming Wednesday. And that’s a lot of submissions.
From a personal perspective, I want the speedway to remain. It was where I saw my first motorsport event, it’s a facility that my family has long been connected to, and it’s a continual hub for Auckland racing enthusiasts.
And here’s five more reasons it should stay.
The alternatives suck
At this stage it’s hard to even really nail down what the alternatives for Western Springs speedway goers even are.
There have been numerous ideas and rumours that’ve been discussed; moving it to the new Colin Dale Park facility in South Auckland, moving it to Mount Smart Stadium, and even speculation they might merge with Waikaraka Family Speedway.
And those in the know can probably rattle off a few others, too.
No offence to the aforementioned venues, but I highly doubt any of them would be able to fill the void of Western Springs; its central nature, its micro-Colosseum atmosphere.
Not to mention that according to Springs promoter Greg Mosen, Regional Facilities Auckland are yet to even find an alternative venue in the first place. Whether that means they’ve been sitting on their hands all this time, or whether it means each of their potential options has been mooted isn’t known.
“The RFA have failed to find a suitable venue alternative for the sport. We have waited for them to deliver and they haven’t,” he said at the beginning of March.
“The RFA stadium strategy seems to be falling apart around them and we don’t want to be part of that. A knee-jerk reaction or a move to a venue that turns out to be unsuitable isn’t what the sport of speedway wants. We are tired of two-year renewals — we need some certainty. We are of the opinion that means remaining at Western Springs.”
Cricket stadiums aren’t cheap
According to Weekend Herald sources, the price of designing this new project would cost “a ballpark figure (ha, ballpark!) of between two and three million bucks. And that’s just for the design phase — the whole thing would cost the between $20million and $40million. And yes, the ratepayer’s got a role to play (pay?) there. Now, don’t for a second think I’m some fist-shaking cricket hater. Behind motorsport, cricket is my second most watched sport — both on the silver screen and in person. And it’s also important to note that Auckland Cricket aren’t behind this push to take over Western Springs, either. They’d rather keep on playing at Eden Park.
… nor particularly well attended
The most logical reason for wanting to fork out that kind of money on a sports venue or event is the idea that it’ll inject a certain amount of money and tourism to the local economy. And, international ODIs and T20s tend to do that, especially when it’s world cup time or it’s the likes of Lovely Trenty up against those filthy ball-scratchers from over the ditch. But what about test cricket? Domestic cricket and cricket comps? New Zealand Cricket’s struggle to attract strong crowds at these events has been well publicized for several years now. The problem shares shades of similarity with what the ITM Cup are going through. Not to say that the Western Springs’ is better in numbers. But certainly the venue is always packed out with enthusiastic punters, and they do so without the cloud of ‘this venue cost $30million to build’ over their heads.
One of the big reasons ‘people’ have been wanting to push speedway out of Western Springs is noise. This is a topic of discussion that has been ongoing for a long time; locals saying that they can’t get their kids to sleep during race nights, and race fans saying “well, maybe moving to a house that’s a stone’s throw away from a speedway wasn’t a good idea, sunshine.”
I used to work in Grey Lynn just up the road, and admittedly it’s a weird place for a speedway. This arena of noise, dirt, burnt fuel, mullets, and hot chips sandwiched between motorway on one side and relatively picturesque suburbia on the other — it’s weird.
Some of this connects to Auckland’s urban sprawl, which will soon see similar noise complaints about Pukekohe Park become a talking point — just you wait.
Ultimately though, it’s hard to argue that an international cricket venue won’t also produce a lot of noise for residents. Especially given that they will most likely hope to use the venue on more days of the year than the measly 12 that speedway gets, and also given the amount of day/night events that often drag on into the night.
In the end, every argument for wanting Western Springs to not get nuked into oblivion always ends in the same place — a talk about preservation of history. The stories of ‘developing Auckland’ and ‘developing our Super City™’ are often cringy things. And that connects (albeit often indirectly) with the loss of heritage sites and things that make — or made — Auckland what it was. Whether it’s Youth Town in the city, Warings Corner in Sandringham, or the continual threat on the St. James Theatre. Western Springs Speedway is that institution to so many New Zealand racing fans, which is important particularly right now as we watch the likes of Brendon Hartley, Hayden Paddon, Shane van Gisbergen, Scott McLaughlin, Marcus Armstrong, Scott Dixon and co take on the rest of the world. Without the Springs, the future of the sport in New Zealand will have a massive hole.
To send the Auckland City Council your submission, drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through their Facebook page; Auckland Council.