Open Letter to Whau Local Board and the media

Rosebank Park Domain lease: do public consultation on a park and separate the racetrack from the native forest

Kia ora koutou,

The Tree Council was dismayed to read the recent Whau Local Board Chair’s Report https://ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/news/2024/05/from-the-whau-local-board-chair/ stating that a new lease for the motor sports clubs on the Rosebank Park Domain will soon be announced, most likely for a period of ten years. Plans for redevelopment of the site as a public park have been shelved indefinitely, without a proper investigation or public consultation.

The Chair’s Report states:

we hope to come to a lease arrangement very soon that will give Rosebank Speedway and Auckland Kartsport certainty for the future

Rosebank Domain, once the site of a Maori village called Rangimatariki, is the north-west tip of the Rosebank peninsula in Avondale of about 9 hectares, owned by Auckland Council and leased (at no cost) by two sports clubs; one that races karts and a motorbike speedway. The flat central part of the domain is taken up by their tracks and club areas, while the forested perimeter, which was neglected for decades, comprises significant coastal native forest with a rare north-western aspect. The motor sports clubs’ lease expired in 2019. Since then it has rolled over month by month while the Whau Local Board decided what to do with it, but in that time the motor sport clubs have thrived, constructing a new building in 2019-20 and enjoyed a combined surplus of $65,000 in 2023. The motor sport clubs’ lease required them to keep the entire property weed free, which they have failed to do. Instead the coastal forest ecosystem has been on the brink of collapse due to severe weed infestation and it was full of rubbish and discarded tyres until a couple of local volunteers, unrelated to the motor sport clubs, took on the task of restoring it.

We refer you to our previous letter from 2021 which stated:

The Tree Council believes that any new lease that is drawn up must restrict the sports clubs to the area that they use for sports purposes and that the surrounding forested margin should be removed from the lease so that it can be properly managed by the Council and community volunteers in perpetuity. We understand that the kart club is not opposed to this proposal.

In the past year, the Whau Local Board toyed with the idea of terminating the lease for good and converting the site into a public park, restoring some of its natural state, as the clubs lobbied for another long free lease on this prime site.  

Initially the Local Board sought information. The Chair’s Report states:

When the board began to consider the lease, we were told that an investigation was taking place on future locations for motor sport, so the board decided to wait for the report from that investigation…. While we were looking at the possibility of converting the domain into a park, the investigation into future locations for motor sports seemed to disappear.”

The Tree Council would like to know: 

  1. Who was responsible for undertaking this investigation?
  2. Why was it not completed?
  3. When did the Whau Local Board find out that it wasn’t going to be completed?
  4. What actions did the Local Board take to ensure that it would be completed?
  5. Why does the Local Board now consider it is no longer necessary to complete the investigation in order to determine the lease, when it was previously your decision to wait for it to be completed?

It would appear that the Whau Local Board waited, without following it up, for this report to appear for seven months and then announced that they were waiting for another report, this time into the feasibility of the park option, before this report also seemed to disappear after about two months. The only explanation for dropping the park option is apparently some anecdotal evidence that “many people believe the domain would not be a suitable place for a park as it is in an industrial area” although there is no reference to who these people are, or how these opinions were obtained.

The Tree Council would like to know what evidence was used to gather these opinions on the potential for a future public park at the Rosebank Domain? Was a survey done? What were the results? How many people were surveyed & were they Whau Local Board area residents?

The Tree Council does not consider that the Whau Local Board is conducting the renewal of this lease in a comprehensive or open manner. It is merely kicking the can down the road in terms of making decisions about the future of the land and succumbing to lobbying from the motor sports clubs, whose members mostly live outside the Whau Local Board area. This approach risks endangering the survival of the important coastal forest fragment that fringes the park. There is no guarantee that the volunteers currently maintaining it will continue to be granted access by the motor sports clubs, who have over their many years in occupation not fulfilled the conditions of their lease regarding the care and weeding of the forest. 

Rolling over the same lease in the same way will evoke the same outcome.

As the Chair’s Report states:

the northern Whau area suffers from very low tree canopy cover, which a park could help address. A park could also provide a destination for the cyclists and walkers who use the Northwest shared path, use of which will increase as construction of the Te Whau pathway expands”.

In fact, the Local Board officially commissioned an ecological report in 2018 (Meurk Report) and a Whau Urban Ngahere (Forest) Analysis Report in 2020, on the basis of which it committed to achieving 30% forest canopy coverage by 2050. North Avondale, in which Rosebank Domain is situated, had just 6% coverage at that time, and may have even less now. It is not clear how the Local Board thinks they will achieve 30% coverage in Whau, up from the 17% in 2018, but reforesting the Rosebank Park Domain would definitely help. The Local Board could have canvassed locals on the desirability of the park idea, but didn’t. Having lost several battles over tree protection in recent years it is likely that there would have been strong public support from the local community.

The Tree Council considers that our proposal to separate the forested area from the racetrack as part of the new lease and taking the forested area back under Council control is the very least that the Local Board should do now. There should also be a public consultation on the future use of the land that includes clear options, one of which is to transform it into a public park at some future date (possibly at the end of the next lease). The lease should in any case be publicly notified, as we stated in our letter to you in 2021.

The Tree Council is not opposed to the motor sports clubs having a new lease for the racetrack and its buildings, although we think it is disingenuous of the Local Board to dismiss the idea of turning it into a public park without consulting the community. But we are strongly opposed to this lease also encompassing the forested fringe of the park, which is an important and under-represented ecological unit in the Auckland Region, and needs to be better valued by the Whau Local Board and Auckland Council. 

The Tree Council believes that a 5-year lease should be adequate to give the motor sport clubs some certainty and plenty of time to find themselves a new home, while formally consulting with the community regarding a long-term use for the site, and then making a final decision about the future. Separating the forest from the racetrack lease will release the  motor sports clubs from their neglected obligation to maintain the forest and increase its protection in perpetuity, as well as provide a resource for the local community and enable those volunteers currently working to protect it to have guaranteed access to it. 

If the motor sports clubs cannot at this point in time find a new home so that the entire area can become a park then please remove the forest fringe from the leased area and enable it to be better cared for in perpetuity for the community and the greater Auckland Region. The Local Board should consult with the local community about what they would like to see happen to this public land once the lease expires.

Thank you / Ngā mihi nui

The Tree Council
www.treecouncil.org.nz
www.facebook.com/TheTreeCouncil