Community institution feels the pinch

The Caledonian Bowling Club and its associated social hub should not be a casualty of the Dunedin City Council's squeeze on debt, writes Harry Love, of Dunedin.

Traditionally, the first cuckoo of spring is the harbinger of better things to come; on the other hand, if you're a humble sparrow the news may not be so good.

There is a fat bird in the Dunedin City Council nest that swallows most of the food and, no doubt quite unaware that it does so, pushes some of the smaller, skinnier chicks out altogether.

And you don't need to be an ornithologist to identify the bird.

But, before we sigh, roll our eyes and mutter things about yet another stadium denier, I should put this flight of fancy into context.

This bird is going nowhere, yet to kill it off and bury it may well be more expensive, at least in the short run, than to keep it alive.

The question, like all political questions, is one of priorities.

I propose, then, to describe the impending demise of one victim of the newcomer's voracity and to raise some questions about the priorities the DCC, as guardians of the nest, might consider.

There are two points to be made before we get to the nitty gritty.

Firstly, the DCC is burdened with large debt, a fair proportion of which is attributable to the Forsyth Barr Stadium and which it is commendably searching for ways to reduce.

Secondly, while there is no direct or formal link between stadium costs, as such, and individual victims of the DCC's need to retire debt, it is indisputable that, in the fiscal space available, small and apparently unimportant entities are pushed out by the big one.

The situation is this: the DCC proposes to sell 223 Andersons Bay Rd, at present leased to the Caledonian Bowling Club.

The 20-year lease expired in 2012 and has been renewed annually since.

The motivation for this is to retire debt, and though the actual sum the sale might achieve is confidential, we are probably in the region of $1 million.

The council's rationale for this is (i) since the dismemberment of the old Caledonian sports hub in 1999, only the bowling club and the adjacent gymnasium remain. (ii) The character of the area has changed over time so that the land is now valuable for commercial or light industrial use. (iii) Bowling clubs are shrinking and membership of several of them (particularly this one) renders them unviable.

On the face of it, this looks convincing.

And it might be, if it were as simple as that.

The Caledonian Bowling Club is a South Dunedin institution (there are few of them left) that has been in business since 1879 and which, on being granted a lease in 1978, built new clubrooms and facilities with the expectation that the city council would renew the lease while the club looked after the buildings and grounds.

History is one thing; the present weighs even more heavily.

The Caledonian Bowling Club is not only involved in lawn bowls, but has sections involved in indoor bowls, darts, pool, snooker and table tennis competitions.

Its rooms are used several days a week by an English language class and by the Scottish regiment for their Anzac service.

The club has a quite viable playing membership of 34 bowlers and a social membership of 219.

Its ''lounge'' is very well patronised, something of an oasis in the vicinity.

From any perspective, this is a significant social hub. It is vibrant and well run.

The 2013 accounts of the bowling club would be the envy of most social and sporting clubs in Dunedin.

And if it were to disappear, what would replace it?

Yet more commercial sterility. Where would people go?

Who knows. The social cost?

We could pluck a number out of the air, as do those who discover fabulous economic gain in every ''event''.

But that would not be honest.

The fate of the Caledonian Bowling Club, should it close, is symptomatic of Dunedin's lack of balance.

It cannot be good for the city as a whole to squeeze the life (and I use the word advisedly) out of one part for the sake of another - for one group of people to have their social lives sacrificed for the sake of a very expensive mistake on the part of a previous council.

The DCC's motivation is perfectly reasonable and everyone will wish Dr Bidrose and her colleagues well in their efforts to address the problems arising from the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

But this proposal fails to acknowledge its own deeper repercussions.

Then what about a council levy on every ticket sold for all stadium events?

It won't solve the whole problem, any more than selling off 223 Andersons Bay Rd will, but, along with other measures, may help to mitigate it.

Just a thought.

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