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Rugby boss ‘blindsided’ as repairs stop at Invercargill’s main ground

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Local Democracy Reporter

15 May 2024, 6:02 AM

Rugby boss ‘blindsided’ as repairs stop at Invercargill’s main groundThe future of Invercargill's Rugby Park is on shaky ground after the council decided to cease maintenance and safety works, saving about $3 million in the process. Photo: ODT/Supplied

The head of Rugby Southland says he has been “blindsided” by the council’s decision to halt maintenance and safety improvements at the city’s main ground.

On Wednesday, councillors moved to stop work being undertaken at Rugby Park from next year, saving about $3 million in the process.

According to a council report, the building was deteriorating at a “high rate” with other challenges, including asbestos, building on the boundary and an undulating landscape.

The council had to step in for unplanned work last year after a ceiling collapsed due to water damage from leaks.

Rugby Southland chief executive Steve Mitchell said requests for the stadium were being moved by the council as recently as last week, making Tuesday’s news “a complete blindside”.

“We were all aware, continued to believe, that the repairs as agreed were continuing to happen,” Mitchell said.

“This is a real left turn that nobody foresaw, or nobody had a heads up about.”

Mitchell said the sport was gaining momentum in the region with an increase in participation over the last three years.

He would now meet with the board to determine an action plan.

“We’re only a phone call away too, so it’s pretty disappointing.”

Safety and maintenance work had already begun at Rugby Park this year to the tune of $1.2 million and was set to be completed ahead of the NPC starting in August.

That included making a start on strengthening the earthquake-prone main stand, some improvements to level one and pre-roof work.

Highlanders and Southland lock Josh Bekhuis signs autographs after a Highlanders game at Rugby Park in Invercargill last year. Photo: Getty Images/Supplied

About $200,000 of that would be saved by the council's decision to cease, with a further $2.8 million saved by not progressing the 2025 upgrades.

Stopping work meant the park could remain open next year, but the building would still be earthquake-prone and likely suffer significant damage in a moderate quake.

The rugby union vacated the premises six years ago for what was supposed to be a six month period following the discovery of toxic mould, but never returned, Mitchell said.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Nobby Clark was blunt in his assessment of the park’s future.

“I think we are throwing good money away on Rugby Park,” he said.

“It doesn’t have a future, and nor does any future park . . . as a multi-use facility.”

Clark said there was now a nationwide preference for boutique sporting venues that catered to individual sports.

Councillor Ria Bond supported a multi-sport venue, but said there had been a change in the community’s sporting needs.

“I feel like we are tipping money into a . . . leaking bath when it comes to Rugby Park,” she said.

Councillor Ian Pottinger noted the park had been taken over by the council in 2015 by a narrow margin of votes.

At the time, there had been talk of getting neighbouring Southland councils to partner in keeping it running, he said.

“I don’t think that’s worked out.”

According to an archived Southland Times article, the ground was opened in April 1908.

It is home to the Southland Stags in the NPC, and last hosted a Highlanders game in 2023.

In 2011, it hosted three Rugby World Cup games.

The park has a maximum capacity of 18,000 but is currently restricted to just 1700 patrons.

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

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