Council spends $13m to buy Forbury Park

Former raceway Forbury Park has been sold to the Dunedin City Council for $13.2 million and there are strong signs it will be used to boost the city’s climate resilience.

At nearly 12ha, the St Kilda site is one of the largest pieces of available land in Dunedin.

Development of housing remains a possibility for at least part of the property.

It is also located within the coastal, low-lying and highly populated South Dunedin basin, which officials and consultants have argued needs to have better ways of dealing with water amid climate change.

Residents will be consulted about how the 11.76ha park is used.

The purchase would be funded from savings in existing capital expenditure budgets, the council said.

Forbury Park Trotting Club chairman Lex Williams (left) and Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich reflect on...
Forbury Park Trotting Club chairman Lex Williams (left) and Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich reflect on the future of the former raceway in St Kilda yesterday. The Dunedin City Council has bought the 11.76ha site, which could be used to help South Dunedin adapt to climate change. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The raceway was for decades the home of the Forbury Park Trotting Club, but the venue was deemed surplus to the racing industry’s requirements and held its last race in 2021.

Legislation passed the previous year effectively resulted in Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ) gaining ownership rights.

However, its efforts to sell the property became bogged down in complicated legal proceedings between HRNZ, the club and Seed Housing Ltd.

The park was allowed to go to market from November last year, when the dispute was resolved.

The Dunedin City Council voted 13-1 during the public-excluded part of a meeting this week to buy Forbury Park.

Cr Lee Vandervis was against and Cr Kevin Gilbert was absent.

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich moved the resolution and it was seconded by Cr David Benson-Pope.

"The opportunity to acquire undeveloped land of this scale and in this location is rare," Mr Radich said.

"A site of this size is likely to have a variety of uses."

He expected the community to be reassured by moves to shore up climate resilience in the city.

"The critical thing with this council [is] it is prepared to take action."

Plans for the park would be subject to community consultation, he said.

"At this stage, all options are on the table, and it is important to get the community’s input.

"I’m sure there will be no shortage of great ideas from the public, which could be coupled with public infrastructure on the site."

The council highlighted options for stormwater management and the potential to assist in flood mitigation and climate adaptation, but said a wide range of options existed.

Seed Housing director Gary Todd in 2021 described Forbury Park as a "catalyst site" to regenerate the area.

Restored wetlands could be part of such a vision and housing design in South Dunedin could be relocatable and resilient to all hazards, suspended above raised ground levels to counter sea-level rise and surface flooding, he told city councillors.

The city council and Otago Regional Council run the South Dunedin Future programme, which was set up after flooding in 2015.

"The memory of the flooding is quite strong in people’s minds and I think it’s very important and beholden on council to do something constructive about that," Mr Radich said.

Buying Forbury Park was a tangible commitment by the council to South Dunedin, which would in turn benefit the city as a whole, he said.

HRNZ chairman Phil Holden was delighted the sale had been completed.

"It is a substantial amount of money, and we will be very prudent in how it is used and will consult widely before any decisions are made."

Proceeds from the sale would benefit harness racing in the southern region.

The most recent valuation of the property was $14.8m in 2022, when it was 12.2ha.

Land value at the time was estimated to be above $14.6m.

Last year, the Ministry of Education acquired about 5000sqm, allowing St Clair School to expand its playing fields.

Taieri MP Ingrid Leary said she was delighted and relieved the city council had recognised what she described as the strategic importance of Forbury Park.

Ms Leary hoped the former raceway land could be used to help South Dunedin adapt to the water issues it was facing and that the council would make an informed judgement "in a thoughtful yet timely way".

Your thoughts:
What do you think should be done with Forbury Park?