Julian Lee's Campbell Live report last week on plans for Auckland's Chamberlain Park golf course repeatedly made the point that its status as an inner-city everyman's course makes it unusual, perhaps even unique. Somewhat inevitably, it was brightened by shots of the reporter good-naturedly taking divots out of the turf. The time might have been better spent explaining exactly what's going on.
The angle of the story was summed up in John Campbell's introduction: this is a much-loved course and " ... the local community board wants to carve it up into a sports field and car parks." Well, actually, the proposal is to convert the park to a nine-hole course to free up land for a variety of other uses, including "passive recreation".
As you would expect, golfers vox-popped on the course thought this was a dreadful idea.
But hold on here: this is 32 hectares, zoned as open public space in the Unitary Plan, to which the public currently does not have free access, and the council and the community board are entitled to consider the best use of the land when the opportunity arises. That opportunity did arise in June last year, when the lease held on the land since 1996 by a private company, Auckland City Golf Course Limited, ended and the council took over operation of the course.
There were rumours that the land would be sold for housing development, but in June this year The Albert-Eden community board received a report on development options for the park, including this image:
Golf remains the central use for the park, but the report found that "Chamberlain Park offers a type of golf course for which there is understood to be an oversupply in the region" and proposed a smaller course with a driving range and a coaching facility for new players. Land freed up to the east would be used for a playground, a garden and half a dozen sports fields, which are in short supply in Eden-Albert.
The western fringe of the site and an area around its whole boundary would become a "passive recreation" area -- actual public parkland, allowing connections with existing reserves and neighbouring streets, and potentially the "daylighting" of Meola Creek, which could be uncovered and restored to its natural state, much as Oakley Creek has been.
Given that the area is already losing green space (those trees) to motorway expansion flowing on from the Waterview Connection, this seems quite appealing. And the fact is, this is a very large piece of open space in an area where the population is expected to intensify considerably in the next few decades. Is is that important to retain an 18-hole inner-city course at the expense of everyone in the area who doesn't play golf?
Chamberlain Park isn't far from my house: I've been past it countless times over the years, most notably on the northwestern cycleway. But I've never been able to set foot on it without paying money. That part of the story was really missing from the Campbell Live report -- along with the fact that the community board is taking feedback on the plan until December 15. The online questionnaire canvasses options like a performance space, a community garden, "nature play" areas and walking, cycling and exercise infrastructure. I think the potential to enhance access to and from the existing cycleway is really exciting.
Whatever floats your boat, that's a a hell of a lot of community potential to be setting against the maintenance of a fenced-off 18 hole golf course. Just sayin'.