Woodburn rugby stadium faces closure

2011-08-12 00:00

WOODBURN Stadium, the headquarters for rugby in Pietermaritzburg and the KZN midlands, is in crisis and is facing closure because of crippling electricity charges.

The venue is owned by the KZN Rugby Union (KZNRU) and is used by 10 clubs in Pietermaritzburg for evening practices and matches and for the development of the game in the midlands.

But the dramatic increase in expenses — largely in providing electricity — has placed the future of the venue in jeopardy and the excellent stadium pitch is not being used at night due to the cost of turning on the floodlights.

The electricity bill to the Midlands Rugby Sub-Union (MRSU) has trebled in three years with the Msunduzi Municipality’s rate for Woodburn Stadium more than twice the amount paid in Durban for the use of the King’s Park complex.

Woodburn received a monthly bill of R45 000 for July, and this will increase alarmingly in the months ahead with the 26% increase in electricity in Pietermaritzburg.

The KZNRU executive committee are determined to plug this financial drain.

Pete Smith, the KZNRU CEO, said yesterday that Woodburn “is a serious concern with the high electricity accounts being the main problem”.

The executive this week resolved “that the sustainability and future of the Woodburn Stadium complex should be reviewed”.

Smith added, “It is our duty to promote amateur and development rugby and we would obviously be reluctant to close down a valuable facility in the midlands.

Smith said that the KZNRU’s total budget for club rugby in the province is about R4 million.

This amount is allocated to 70 clubs in the five sub-unions of Durban, Midlands (Pietermaritzburg), Southern Districts, Zululand and Northern KZN.

The cost of the Woodburn complex means that a disproportionate amount — about a third — of the total grant goes towards these 10 clubs. This obviously means that the other 60 clubs in KZN are disadvantaged.

Piet Herbst, president of the MRSU, said the concern of the KZNRU executive is understandable.

“It is a critical problem, but if the electricity costs were halved the future of Woodburn could be secured.

“We have tried everything but getting nowhere,” Herbst said.

Smith said meetings have been held with the city council officials and the KZN’s Sport and Recreation MEC, Weziwe Thusi, while SA Rugby Union president Regan Hoskins has also become involved.

Herbst said the MRSU has gone to ridiculous lengths to cut costs, cutting back on the number of floodlights on the backfields, not using the main ground at night and turning off geysers.

He added that Woodburn is paying a bulk rate of R2,45 per kilowatt hour. The domestic rate is 51,70 cents/kwh and the small business tariff is 53 cents.

“If we could pay the local business tariffs for lights, or at the same rate as King’s Park, we could solve this problem,” he said.

Herbst pointed out that Woodburn is a facility for the public of Pietermaritzburg, “but we cannot afford to run it properly because of the crippling electricity bill”.

Woodburn Stadium, once the vibrant headquarters of rugby in the KZN midlands, is now under serious threat of being either mothballed or sold to developers.

The lights are indeed going out all over Pietermaritzburg.

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‘Municipality had to disconntect KZNRU’s electricity’

MSUNDUZI Municipality spokesperson Brian Zuma said KZNRU have been “very economical” with regard to the matter.

Zuma said, “Firstly, we have never had meetings with them to discuss electricity. They met with us to discuss their debt as a result of outstanding payments for rates.

“We had to disconnect their electricity because of the huge debt to the municipality. They sought an interdict in the high court for us to reconnect, and the court granted it. They will stay connected until we have defended the application, which we are busy with.

“In light of the fact that this matter is sub judice I am not able to give any further details.”

He said the council’s legal team is dealing with the matter.

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