Stadium may get new turf

A proposal to replace the mixed grass turf inside the Forsyth Barr Stadium with a full artificial turf - at an estimated cost of $1 million - will be considered by a Dunedin City Council subcommittee examining changes to the year-old venue.

However, the idea has prompted a warning from Dunedin Venues Management Ltd chief executive David Davies, who said it could make it harder to attract All Blacks tests and some other top-level sports fixtures.

Cr Lee Vandervis, a member of the council subcommittee, told the Otago Daily Times he would be pushing for the change "very strongly" when the subcommittee met. It was an idea he had raised previously.

The subcommittee would reconvene later this year to consider results of a review of the stadium's operation, as well as other suggestions to improve the venue's use.

The stadium uses the Desso GrassMaster system, in which natural turf is reinforced with millions of plastic fibres. It was funded by community grants totalling $655,000.

The turf is designed to be used three times as often as normal grass. It is used at hundreds of stadiums worldwide and has helped Dunedin's stadium earn rave reviews from players.

However, Cr Vandervis claimed it was also placing "severe constraints" on the venue, and a full artificial turf would cut maintenance costs, while allowing more community use of the venue.

"We could use it every day and not have to worry about the turf."

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, the chairman of the subcommittee, said there would "clearly" be merit in the proposal, if a surface could be found that suited all sporting codes, cost less to maintain and gave more flexibility.

However, the cost of any change, and whether it would be suitable for international rugby, as well as other groups, needed to be considered.

"I don't think it's a silly question at all, but I think you then have to follow on and say what would it mean?"

The proposal would be considered by the subcommittee, along with the views of other stakeholders and the public, before recommendations were presented to the council, Mr Cull said.

That work was expected to begin "in the next month or so".

"The subcommittee would have to satisfy itself that there were more benefits than downside."

Mr Davies said the stadium already catered for "significant" community use, and although it was "undoubtedly true" an artificial turf could increase that, other costs also needed to be considered.

Those included installation costs and ongoing maintenance costs, which would need to be the subject of a council feasibility study.

"I've looked after plastic pitches previously, and they aren't without maintenance costs.

"There is a requirement for them to be kept properly, to make sure that the surface is kept up to scratch."

Some events could also be discouraged from using the venue, he warned.

"I don't think anybody in the NRL, for example, plays on a plastic pitch. I'm not sure any of the All Blacks' major games are played on plastic pitches."

NZRU staff were not willing to comment yesterday, but pointed to International Rugby Board regulation 22, which allowed artificial surfaces to be used, provided steps were followed to ensure required standards were met.

That included testing the playing surface before use, regular maintenance and retesting to ensure standards were maintained.

The IRB's Law 1 also stated playing surfaces should be grass, but could also be clay, sand, snow "or artificial grass", and neither regulations nor laws prevented international rugby on artificial surfaces.

New Zealand already has eight artificial surfaces used for rugby, but only up to premier club level.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said he did not know much about artificial turf technology, but believed the idea "would make good sense" if grass surfaces could be replicated.

Cr Vandervis raised the idea earlier this year, during debate over a dedicated artificial turf for football at Logan Park - part-funded by Fifa - and a separate multipurpose turf for other codes.

The council had opted not to fund either, although potential sites for both had been identified.

Football South general manager Bill Chisholm, who backed the Logan Park plans, said having one inside the stadium would "certainly help" the sport, and could be completed for about $1 million.

However, he questioned whether it would suit rugby, and said Fifa would not help fund the initiative unless it was dedicated to football.

"Fifa are not going to put their money into something that's for general use. We would have to control it."




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