Former Tauranga mayor joins motorsport advocates calling for safe space for street racers

Sandra Conchie, New Zealand Herald
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A former mayor and motorsport advocates say TECT All Terrain Park could potentially be an ideal “safe, controlled venue” for the street racers who caused mayhem in Tauranga last weekend.

Three illegal street racing gatherings involving hundreds of vehicles were held in and around Tauranga recently, blocking intersections, disrupting neighbourhoods, taking up police time and angering residents who say lives were put at risk.

Two teenage bystanders were injured after being hit by a vehicle - the Bay of Plenty Times reported one suffered broken bones and leg lacerations, and the other had bruising and a concussion.

Police say about 300 vehicles were involved in the three gatherings - at Welcome Bay, SH36 near Whataroa Rd and Cameron Rd/11th Ave - and one person was arrested and one car impounded.

Now, former Tauranga mayor and self-confessed “petrolhead” Stuart Crosby is among those calling for an alternative, “safe, controlled venue” for car enthusiasts to express themselves and practise their skills.

“Any motorsport is dangerous if it is not regulated and managed correctly, and street racing cannot be condoned.”

Crosby said a viable safe option could be TECT Park, a 1650-hectare piece of land off State Highway 36 between Tauranga and Rotorua, jointly owned by the Tauranga City and Western Bay of Plenty District councils.

A leased space in the park is already used by four clubs under the umbrella of Te Matai Motorsport Inc: Motorsport Bay of Plenty, BOP Radio Control Car Club, the BOP 4WD Club and Waikato Offroad Racing Club.

Crosby, a regional councillor and president of Local Government New Zealand, said Te Matai Motorsport had already been working on future development plans for some time.

“These sorts of activities have to be done in the right place and at the right time, so it reduces the risk of danger to other people and cuts the nuisance factor.”

Motorsport commentator Steve Daniel agreed.

Daniel, who lives on Ohauiti Rd, said he was heading home from Welcome Bay on Saturday night when he came across a mass gathering of cars and people at the Welcome Bay Rd and Western Bay Link Rd intersection.

“I estimate there were around 1000 people and hundreds of cars parked everywhere, including up Hammond St, Ohauiti Rd and along the slip road.

“What some of these young people were doing, including burnouts, was because they can relate to the professional drivers. They were obviously attempting to mimic them, but it needs to be done in a controlled safe environment and governed by health and safety rules.”

He said a key problem was getting community buy-in, given the public perception of anti-social behaviour. He said the sport of drifting was “substantially different” from people doing burnouts.

Daniel said he would support using some ratepayer money if the right controlled area could be found. A venture could possibly become another income stream for a club or organisation that managed it.

Motorsport Bay of Plenty Inc. president Mike Torr said the club had built a gravel track at TECT Park and was developing a proposal to construct a large, multi-purpose concrete area that could also be used for drifting and burnout-type events.

However, he said even an area the size of half a football field would cost $600,000 to $700,000, which was beyond the clubs’ means.

Torr believed the money needed could be raised if the councils gave approval under a public-private funding arrangement.

“Potentially, this could help solve some of the problem of cars doing these types of activities in uncontrolled areas.”

Te Matai Motorsport president David Loughlin said the groups’ proposed development plans for the park were still at the planning stage.

“We have been in discussions with the organisers of the D1NZ National Drifting Championships for some time about this development opportunity.”

He said a focus of the proposal was to create an area where driver training and skill development at all levels could take place.

They were also interested in engaging with those behind a bid to re-open the former Ngongatahā Motorsport skid pad, to see if TECT Park could be an alternative.

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor James Denyer said while the council leased an area of TECT Park to Te Matai Motorsport, there had been a “level of reluctance” in the past to provide or manage any facility that would be open to the general public.

“There is currently no funding in the park’s budget for such a facility, and any request for such financial backing would have to be treated in the same way as any other request for new infrastructure made by park users.”

Denyer said this might come up through TECT Park’s upcoming strategic review, aimed at helping set priorities for its future.

“Any facility of this type, regardless of how it is funded, would need to be operated by a club or governing body in a controlled way under Motorsports NZ requirements to manage associated risks and liabilities.

“Considerable planning would be needed to bring such a project to fruition. We estimate this could be a million-dollar project.”

Tauranga City Commissioner Anne Tolley said this proposal would not be a “good fit” with Tauranga City Council’s sustainability focus and work to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, and the Commission had not seen anything which would indicate such a facility would be a good use of ratepayer funding.

“But that situation could be reviewed if a compelling cost/benefit and funding proposal was brought forward for consideration.”

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