A controversial $30 million white-water-rafting and kayaking facility in Manukau is back on the drawing board after coming through the political rapids at Auckland Council.
After a lengthy and testy debate yesterday, the council voted 11-9 to allow the Counties Manukau Pacific Trust to build the facility at the TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre, subject to public consultation.
The trust will receive $20 million from the sale of a piece of adjacent council-owned land and promised to raise the remaining $10 million.
Trust chairman and business leader Sir Noel Robinson gave a guarantee to councillors that the project would not require any ongoing funding from ratepayers.
Sir Noel said the trust was proud of what it had achieved for the community and the youth of South Auckland with the Pacific Events Centre and wanted to complete the next stage, the white-water facility.
The commercial venture, with an entry fee of $35 for kayaking and $55 for rafting, is budgeted to run profitably, which will enable the trust to subsidise 15,000 local schoolchildren annually.
The facility has been plagued by controversy going back to 2009 when the former Manukau City Council rejected it. On that occasion, ratepayers were being asked to pay $40 million of the $60 million cost for a bigger project.
Sir Noel and Pacific Events Centre chief executive Richard Jeffery also have close ties to Auckland Mayor Len Brown, who removed himself from yesterday's debate because of a conflict of interest. Mr Jeffery was a member of Mr Brown's mayoral campaign team in 2010. Sir Noel is a close confidant of Mr Brown and told the Herald he had contributed financially to his election campaign, but would not say how much he gave.
It also emerged yesterday that a "slip-up" saw the white-water-rafting facility being removed from the council's long-term plan and consultation process, prompting criticism by several councillors.
Said councillor George Wood: "This absolutely stinks. This project was never in the legacy Manukau City Council long-term plan and the fact it has leapfrogged, circumventing the long-term process, makes a mockery of the system."
During a three-hour debate, support built for the facility among councillors and the two Maori Statutory Board members on the strategy and finance committee. "This trust has a good record second to none," said councillor Ann Hartley. "There is no risk to us. If the money is not there it is not going to happen."
But Howick councillor Dick Quax, a former Manukau City councillor who has opposed the plan since 2009, described events as deja vu.
He said the trust had already benefited from the sale of the land, which the Manukau council had to buy back after the developer failed to meet the terms of the contract, and wanted a second bite of the cherry.
He said he had received about 300 messages in the past two days, all opposed to giving the trust proceeds from the sale of the land.
His views were not shared by Manukau councillors Alf Filipaina and Arthur Anae, who voted for the project, and there were conflicting messages about where the four southern local boards stood.
White water costs
$20 million Proceeds from sale of council land
$10 million Private fundraising
$0 Capital and running costs from ratepayers
$35-$55 Entry fee for adults
$0-$15 Entry fee for schoolchildren