Motor Racing at Wigram – Part 10 (Final)
Wigram was the first of the RNZAF bases to close under the process initiated by the Government for the rationalisation of its Defence Forces. The decision provoked some controversy on the grounds that Sir Henry Wigram had gifted the land occupied by the base for specific flying school purposes – in perpetuity. But this was not so. His generosity had contributed valuable land to the nascent airfield, but had not been conditional on its continuing use in this way.
The base had been at its busiest during the years of World War II, 1939-45, when at any one time there could be between 1500-2000 air force personnel on the site, most of them resident there. To commemorate this period of intense use in flying training, in 1973 a mounted Harvard aircraft had been placed on a pedestal at the entrance to the base.
Wigram was the oldest of the Air Force bases in New Zealand, and the first to go.
The South Island trible, Nga Tahu, bought the land off the NZ Government for $16 million. Two of the historic hangars were chosen to remain in situ as a residential village was gradually developed on the land. These were to become indoor sports facilities for the community. The control tower, a central visual feature for race spectators in the latter years of Wigram as a racing venue, was envisaged as prime retail space in the new village, the existing runway as the central boulevard. Streets would take the names of familiar aeroplanes that once provided flying experience to countless learner pilots.
Over a period of ten years, 2100 houses were to be constructed, providing homes for 5000 people. Greater numbers each day of the year on this historic site than passed through the gates in the last few years for the motor racing at Wigram.