Closure of stand stalls speedway festivities
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Waikaraka Park grandstand poses 'significant risk'
Thousands of speedway fans have had their season's grand opening pushed back at least two weekends by a last-minute Auckland Council decision to suspend public use of Waikaraka Park's elderly grandstand to the public.
The council last night denied a claim by the Auckland Stock and Saloon Car Club that it had condemned the 73-year-old building, but said it had been advised by seismic experts that without additional strengthening it posed a "significant risk".
Local and sports park manager Jane Aicken said the council was reviewing options for the structure's future, and remained committed to supporting speedway events at Waikaraka "as an important community activity".
The club has meanwhile had to cancel not only its opening meeting, scheduled for last weekend, but also plans for an even bigger demolition derby and fireworks display this Saturday.
That is despite a council appeal for Aucklanders wanting to celebrate Guy Fawkes to find a public display or keep to their backyards.
"We were ... told just a week out from firing off," track manager Bruce Robertson said of the setback to the speedway, which is billed as a family attraction and has operated at Te Papapa near Onehunga since the 1960s.
"Race teams are all ready to go ... and they suddenly find their track's been basically closed down because they've got no seating facilities for the public, and no toilets."
Although about 700 temporary seats were due to arrive at the park from Christchurch today, that would still leave the club about 2000 short of what it needed for large events, and even a third scheduled meeting for November 7 remained in doubt.
Club president Frank Irvine said the council appeared to have chosen to condemn the grandstand rather than carry out repairs to loose masonry which prompted the closure of its lower level last year.
"It's pretty hard for us as a club," he said of the latest blow.
Mr Irvine said the council had failed to respond to questions the club sent it last year, such as whether there had been any maintenance on the building.
"What they have done is ... got an earthquake report on it," he said.
"But we only use it for four hours a week and Auckland doesn't have earthquakes - they have gone to the extreme."
He said up to 5000 people usually turned up for the annual demolition derby and fireworks night.
"It's one of the best fireworks displays you see in Auckland."
Ms Aicken said the seismic report was commissioned after the emergence last year of concrete rot, or "spawling", which caused masonry to be dislodged and prompted temporary works by the council to make it safe.