Future of Invercargill’s Rugby Park clouded

Invercargill’s Rugby Park faces an uncertain future as a top-class rugby venue. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Invercargill’s Rugby Park faces an uncertain future as a top-class rugby venue. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The future of Invercargill’s Rugby Park will be up for debate next week, but a suggestion has been made to move top-class rugby to another ground.

The ground is owned by Invercargill City Council (ICC), which bought it in July 2016. Mitre 10 Cup games were played at the ground last year and the park in various forms has been home to the Southland side for over a century.

Rugby Southland offices and Rugby Southland Supporters rooms have been closed since last year when toxic mould was discovered, and a part of the main grandstand was also cordoned off over fears about the safety of the western end of the stand.

Just under half of the 3400 seats in the stand were deemed to be unsafe, and are set to not be used for the upcoming Mitre 10 Cup.

Invercargill city councillor Nobby Clark said yesterday it was time to look at Rugby Park and realise it was very big stadium to host five to eight games a year.

He suggested Mitre 10 Cup games should be played at Surrey Park, which was right beside Stadium Southland.

"There is a club ground there and we have Stadium Southland with all its facilities just a couple of hundred metres away. It has all that a team needs in the terms of changing rooms, bars and other facilities," he said.

"We could build a temporary stand there and get people along to the games."

Clark said the question had to be asked whether the council was getting the bang for its buck with Rugby Park. He said it no longer attracted crowds, and he could not remember the last time the ground was full. He feared the cost of strengthening the main stand would be up to $1million.

The ground was run by a trust, the trustees appointed by the council.

The Highlanders no longer played games at Rugby Park, having ended an agreement with the ICC to play one game a year. They played their final game last season, beating the Waratahs.

Clark said the council had organised workshops next week at which it would look at the future of many closed public buildings, such as the Southland Museum and Art Gallery and Rugby Park.

Surrey Park may be able to house games, but could run into issues over quality of lighting and a too-distant proximity of rooms to the playing field.

The ICC said earlier this month there had been a delay in fixing the toxic mould because of the Covid-19 lockdown and the need to install temporary steel bracing.

Work had started and it was hoped to have rooms back in use by the end of next month. The expected cost was $100,000.

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