Chamberlain Park golf course

Chamberlain Park golf course, part of Auckland’s city fringe for more than 80 years, has become a 21st century battleground.

On one side is the golfing fraternity, siding with their sport and tradition – looking to retain a full, 18-hole public course – one of just two in greater Auckland where anyone can play a round at modest cost, and avoid the big money needed to join a private club.

On the  other is the Albert Eden Local Board, which has decided a superior nine-hole course and driving range – backed by cycleway, sports fields, picnic areas, creek restoration and perhaps even a new swimming pool – is the best way to use the prime land.

Here, the board chair and the leader of Save Chamberlain Park give their perspectives…


[Articles written September 2017]

Peter HaynesBy Peter Haynes

Chair of Albert Eden Local Board

THE Albert-Eden Local Board’s master plan for Chamberlain Park, adopted in 2015, widens the uses of park currently open only to paying golfers.

It envisages a nine-hole golf course with a driving range and learn-to-play facilities, two high-use sports fields, a local park with a new playground, BBQ facilities, etc, walking and cycling paths, the restoration of a major section of the Meola Creek/Waititikō and wetlands and space for a replacement for the aquatic centre that must move from the Mt Albert Grammar School site.

Auckland Council took over the operation of the golf course on Chamberlain Park in 2013, and this provided a chance to look at the best use of the 32.2 ha of precious open space.

Key factors in the decision to widen the uses of the park were the severe shortfall in sports field capacity in this part of Auckland, and the low amount of open space per person—the lowest in Auckland, according to officials. Buying land in our area isn’t really an option. There’s precious little, and it’s hideously expensive.


Further, the area surrounding the park in Mt Albert and Pt Chevalier has seen a lot of intensification in recent decades, but much more growth is planned in coming years. Not only are Unitec planning to develop for another 5500 people just to the south, but the changes to the Unitary Plan will see a lot of intensive development just to the west. The master plan is about future-proofing as well as dealing with today’s problems.

So we looked at the options. We consulted twice on whether we should look at a wider range of uses and decided on the basis of those consultations to proceed to consult on four options for the master plan. (A master plan is more of an aspirational plan, and does not commit to any spending or timetable.)

There were three rounds of consultation before the adoption of the master plan. In the first round (the draft 2014 Local Board Plan), the local board consulted on whether or not it should look at options to widen the uses of the park, so the status quo was an option.

Chamberlain parkThe consultation summary of the draft local board plan was clear:

“Over the next three years we want to…     review the use of Chamberlain Park and consult with the community on options for maximizing its recreational use …”

A large number of submissions were received for and against looking at options to move away from the status quo. Having got support for change, the board then consulted on how the park should be changed.

As well as a nine-hole course, the master plan includes new golfing facilities such as a driving range, practice area and/or learn-to-play area that the experts say will improve the appeal of the course to many casual players and support the growth of golf as a pastime.

Golf has declined in popularity in recent years as people find it harder to find 4 to 5 hours for an 18-hole game. Nine-hole courses are common in New Zealand and elsewhere. According to the National Golf Foundation, “4200 nine-hole courses dot the US golf landscape” and 30% of public courses are nine-hole, and many golfers play nine holes. In NZ, there are 135 nine-hole courses and about 260 of 18 holes and 3 of 27 holes.

In fact, the United States Golf Association (the national association of golf courses, clubs and facilities and the governing body of golf for the US and Mexico) promotes nine-hole golf as a key part of its strategy to revitalise the game.

In a similar vein, the NZ Golf Association is moving to make nine-hole scores eligible for handicapping.

50,000 rounds a year

The decline in participation in golf has been reflected in use of Chamberlain Park, where the number of rounds played has been stable at around 50,000 rounds per year, after a steady decline from 82,372 in 2001–2002 to 47,458 in 2014–2015.

The restoration of the 1051m of Waititikō/Meola Creek, which meanders through the western portion of the park, is a key part of stage one. It is planned for next year and includes planting on the stream banks, restoring much of the flood plains and two wetlands and native forest planting. It would form part of a bird corridor linking other exposed parts of the Waititikō with the Meola Reef and Western Springs.Chamberlain park

The local board recognises the urgent need to act to improve the quality of Auckland’s waterways and the Waititikō in particular, and this project is the best way that we can make a material difference. Naturalisation of the stream area has strong support from local environmental groups. (Note: the awa which runs through Chamberlain Park represents about 28% of its length open to the sky, not including 1826 metres that has been culverted.)

The new local park at the western end of the park includes a playground to replace the basic, 1950s-style playground at Rawalpindi Reserve, which is limited and marred by the stench of sewage, an informal recreation area and BBQ areas.

A path along the Waititikō will allow walkers and cyclists to connect the ‘landlocked’ housing to the south of the park with the NW cycleway.

The master plan includes sports fields. Most sports codes are lacking playing field capacity on the isthmus and many have expressed their interest in the planned fields. Cricket, for example, says that it is at least 12 pitches short across the isthmus. A wet winter means we see sports fields closed and people unable to play sport.

We are trying to upgrade the sports fields we have to increase hours of play and avoid closure in wet weather, but only a handful are suitable. Too many of our sports fields are sited on small parks close to neighbours. So sports fields at Chamberlain Park represent the best opportunity to increase capacity and ease the pressure elsewhere in the network. Remember, there will still be a shortfall in our area even after the upgrade programme is completed.

New aquatic centre

The current aquatic centre in Mt Albert will need to move within 5 to 8 years. The local board is pressing hard for a replacement aquatic centre to be built in Mt Albert. Securing a site in Chamberlain Park gives local people some hope of retaining the replacement pool in the Mt Albert area.

Much has been made of the likely cost of the project, with some people latching onto a figure of $30m that was the very top end of the range of options included in the master plan. But the range was from $13m to $30m.

The cost of stage 1 (Western End Park, playground, a shared path and stream restoration) is likely to be around $4m. It’s important to note that $2m is for the stream and wetland restoration, and doesn’t come from the ratepayer, but rather is paid by developers to offset the undergrounding of waterways elsewhere. Further, a big chunk of the $1.25m for the local park is for the playground, which would be renewed at Rawalpindi Reserve in any event.

The cost of reconfiguring the golf course to a 9-hole course is estimated at $3m. The cost of providing a platform for playing fields and associated infrastructure is estimated at $7m. The cost of the sports fields themselves are part of a regional budget to tackle the shortfall in sports field capacity and will be spent somewhere across Auckland. We’d rather that was where the need is greatest.

So the total cost, excepting the cost of sportsfields and a replacement aquatic centre, is expected to be much closer to the lowest figure ($13m) and nowhere near $30m. Furthermore, careful financial analysis estimates increased revenue from the new golfing facilities will pay back $10m of the cost of stage 2 in 10 years.

In sum, for relatively little additional cost to the ratepayers, we are looking at significantly widening the range of options for users of this precious green space near the city centre as well as restoring its natural values.

Geoff SenescallBy Geoff Senescall 

Chair of Save Chamberlain Park

CHAMBERLAIN Park is a popular and well used iconic golf course.  Established through a Labour Government get-back-to-work initiative in 1936, the course today attracts approximately 51,000 rounds of golf a year, making it one of the busiest in Auckland. That equates to an average daily usage of 140 people; few other sports parks would attract such patronage.

Golf is the number one participation sport in Auckland and Chamberlain Park is one of only two public courses servicing the entire Auckland region.

It is an important venue for those who cannot afford, or cannot justify the expense, of joining a private golf club. It attracts a wide ethnic diversity of players and is particularly popular with the Maori and Polynesian communities. It is open to anyone and everyone.  It also supports a women’s and men’s clubs along with other social and cultural groups.

On occasion you will even see the likes of Karl Urban or Oscar Kightley there. The Warriors and the Auckland Blues sometimes use the park and on most weekends you will see Vic Pirihi (an 80 year old Maori gentleman) teaching local kids the game.

Unlike other sports like rugby and soccer, golf is a game you can play through your entire life so it attracts not only young people but also the 60 plus age group – indeed there are a number of 80 plus regulars at Chamberlain Park.

$1m a year revenue

Chamberlain Park generates more than $1m in revenue a year, producing a net profit (surplus cash for the community) of more than $200,000 in the last 12 months.

I note here that most other parks (used for either sports or recreation) cost rate payers money for maintenance and upkeep. In spite of all of this the Albert-Eden Local Board wants to redevelop this well-used park, spending $30m of rate payer money to do so.

On any level this makes no sense:

  • It ignores the high usage and revenue generation at Chamberlain Park
  • It conveniently closes its eyes to the fact that Albert-Eden is surrounded by many great parks – on its borders Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill Domain, Meola Park and Western Springs. Close to its borders lie Auckland Domain, Big King Reserve, Mt Hobson Domain, Keith Hay Park and Memorial Park.
  • No recognition is given to the fact that the key issue around sports fields is weather proofing rather than a lack of fields.
  • Counter to its intention the Albert-Eden Local Board’s proposed MasterPlan will reduce the open and green space through roadways, car parks, structures (especially if the Aquatic Centre is positioned there) and artificial turf. Moreover, in developing all of this, including establishing a nine hole course, many of the trees you currently see will be removed.

Golfer at Chamberlain ParkThe board needs to convince the council that its plans make sense as it is the council that controls the purse strings.

We already know of pending rate hikes due to years of waste and under-investment in Auckland’s infrastructure. It would confirm one’s worst fears of council stupidity if it prioritised such wasteful expenditure.

But the local board does, however, have $1.4m of public funds which it plans to use to start the redevelopment project; namely cutting 1000m from the golf course, reducing both the revenue generation and appeal of Chamberlain Park with no guarantee that the council will indeed provide funding to complete the project.

So what is being done about this?

A group of concerned Aucklanders (made up of golfers and non-golfers) have joined together to challenge the Albert Eden Local Board decision.

A petition has been established with more than 6,000 signatures. Legal action has been filed in the High Court to try and have the process Judicially Reviewed (a hearing in the High Court is set down for 13 November) – this is supported by a Givealittle campaign to raise public money to fund this action.

What do we want?

Keep the 18-hole course

Primarily we want Chamberlain Park to be left as an 18-hole golf course. However, there are many examples both in New Zealand and around the world where public golf courses are used by walkers, bikers and in some cases horse riders.

If the local board is hell bent on broadening the amenity why not use funds generated by Chamberlain Park to finance a bike track around the perimeter of the course? Half of it already exists as there are walk/cycle ways along the motorway and St Lukes Rd.

Agreed protocols around dog walking could be established. The greenkeepers’ shed could be relocated and a playground and/or netball and/or tennis courts could be built.Chamberlain Park

It wouldn’t take much to achieve all this – we call it a “win win situation” that does not require a significant council hand-out and provides additional community amenity while retaining this well-used and important central city golf course for future generations.

It makes no sense to ruin a well-used and loved asset just because you can. Chamberlain Park has been with us 78 years as an 18-hole golf course, yet the Albert Eden Local Board voted four to three (with one abstaining because she turned up late) in favour of redevelopment. That’s hardly a clear mandate to spend ratepayer money.

What’s more, during the last election cycle there was absolute silence on the Chamberlain Park redevelopment plans by the project’s champions in spite of it being the most significant ratepayer expense going forward – Albert Eden residents deserve better.

As a general point great cities like London and Sydney have been able to sustain high population growth and intensification of housing, to at least some extent, by retaining significant green spaces such as Chamberlain Park in a relatively natural state.

In London, for example, look at Richmond Park Golf Course and Wimbledon Common Golf Club as two examples of great public inner-city golf courses.

Chamberlain Park is not spare land and its future should not be determined by the narrow and flawed thinking of a profligate local board.

Aerial Chambelain Park
Chamberlain Park in 1961. Picture courtesy of Whites Aviation and Alexander Turnball Library