By Pete McNae

Keep calm and carry on. It’s not just a motto on a coffee mug, it’s also the approach the Nelson Speedway Association are urging from their members and the speedway public.

The current and ongoing issues with the club’s operating conditions at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway on Lansdowne Road in Richmond are well-documented but, perhaps, not widely understood. That’s because speedway in Nelson is embarking on a complicated, potentially long-winded and costly process to future-proof the sport in Nelson.

At the heart of the issue is a 50-year-old conditions of use document, between the former Waimea County Council and what was once the Tasman Scramble Car Club. Plenty has changed since speedway’s early days in 1968 and the document has not kept pace with those changes. In recent years, the Nelson Speedway Association has dealt with numerous issues around noise, dust, traffic management and operating hours but the current situation goes deeper. A mediation process with a couple of track neighbours was ended when the club felt it was having to give too much away to get a mediated conclusion, while a recent hearing in the Environment Court clarified some sticking points but has left speedway in Nelson facing a few significant issues.

Newly elected president Wayne Martin, back after a year off following three seasons in the role, understands that emotions are running high but he’s put out a call for calm.

“What we need people to accept is that our neighbours have a legal right to take the path they have followed,” Martin said. “We fully understand how the people who race with us, sponsor and support us, or take pleasure from our race meetings feel, but there’s a process involved that we basically must follow for us to try to secure our future.

“Any talk of threats or intimidation just aren’t acceptable. We can sort of police our club members but the message needs to go out to the public as well. People are passionate and they are fired up but voicing that on social media or even worse, thinking about acting on it, will work against us in the long run.”

The club basically has three choices following the Environment Court hearing into the validity of the 1960s document. It can accept the ruling and comply with the judge’s findings, it can appeal the findings as a stop-gap measure, or it can apply for a modern and fit for purpose resource consent that reflects the sport in the 21st century. The first option is suicidal for the sport in Nelson and can’t seriously be contemplated, leaving the club committee to consider either or both of the other options. Like any legal proceedings, they come at a cost — and they don’t happen overnight.

“I’ve said it before — I’m an engineer, not a lawyer or a planner,” Martin said. “Most of us who have been involved in these discussions for some years have a fair idea of what’s involved but this is exactly why we have a lawyer who is representing the club. And his advice is, keep calm and follow the process. That has to be our best chance and the way forward. Any vigilante action, even on the keyboard, hurts us and makes it harder for our lawyer to do his job.”

In recent seasons, the club has been as accommodating as possible. Noise monitoring is stringent, the move to a 6pm start and a pre-10pm finish makes life easier for near neighbours and there is also a costly traffic management system in place to improve safety and traffic movements on Queen St and Lansdowne Rd. The facility is also much more presentable than it was in the past.

“We want to be a good neighbour,” Martin said. “Where we can bend, we generally try to, but there was a line in mediation between bending and giving up control of our sport to people who would maybe like us to close the gates, so we had to end that process. Now we can go to an appeal court over the parts of the Environment Court wording that pose problems for us in carrying out a reasonable race season, or we can start the process of getting a resource consent that hopefully will carry us into the future.”

Club members accepted the need for a $100 one-off levy on their membership at the recent AGM. “It’s for one purpose — it’s not just money to pop in the bank because we are poor, that money is for our fighting fund and people accepted that, even if they didn’t necessarily like it. These hearings cost in the tens of thousands and it’s money we need to commit if we are going to future-proof speedway here,” Martin said.  “The club doesn’t think there is an option except to go back to the courts and hope for an outcome that works better for us.”

The general public will also be invited to contribute to the cause with a Give-a-little page soon to be set up.

So, it’s put your money where your mouth is time for Nelson’s — maybe New Zealand’s — speedway fraternity. Western Springs has already been down this path and a 90-year history at the venue has perhaps two seasons left before speedway moves to another home. Cromwell, like Nelson, a lifestyle area experiencing rapid growth is in the same position. Ruapuna, south of Christchurch, levied members to cover legal costs in a wrangle with neighbours.

“I think maybe Speedway New Zealand needs to be involved, now they have a new board in place. This is their bread and butter and clubs are fighting these battles on their own when their national body could be providing some of the resources — and I don’t mean money, more organisation and infrastructure — for the likes of Nelson and Cromwell. We are all different, some are club tracks, some are council owned — but we are all going to have to be squeaky clean in how we do business and that’s where we come back to the need to be respectful in our dealings with neighbours and council officers.

“If you feel like posting online, we’d probably prefer it if you didn’t. And we won’t be tolerating any action that is directed at the neighbours.”

While the message is difficult to swallow, Martin is confident the club will run a successful season. There’s a new load of clay coming to mitigate issues with stones, they are aiming to hold ticket prices steady and there is a real focus on providing promotions that will offer quality — especially if quantity is limited in some way. Already Easter is a one-day meeting, with Blenheim taking a second race day while the other scheduled two-nighter, the New Zealand Superstock GP, will go ahead, even if it means a format change and a switch to one high-impact race night. That has not been decided at this early stage.

The club is also looking at creating a promotion/admin position to turn some of the public goodwill that has been prominent in the past few weeks into more sponsors and a more polished product.

“I saw some really good stuff going on in the likes of Cromwell and Dunedin last summer — stuff we can be doing with minimal cost that really lifts the overall professionalism of the club. There’s no reason we can’t be using our amazing volunteers in the same way and adding our own flavour,” Martin said.

“That’s what we keep coming back to — as president, I want the speedway people to focus on speedway while our lawyer handles that side of things. When we get our people involving themselves in that other side, it will just make his job harder, more expensive and less likely to reach an outcome we can live with.”

The 2018-19 season is the Nelson Speedway Association’s 50th with opening night on October 20 expected to feature a meet and greet on the Friday, then Saturday’s race night including a good field of visitors, in particular the classic stockcars, and a formal dinner on the Sunday.

“It’s a little ironic that we are in the middle of this in the season that marks where we began and that first document was drawn up but — 50 years, three generations, thousands and thousands of people, hundreds of meetings — all of that just makes it that much more important that we do this once and do it properly, for all the years that follow.”