Mayor says dropping project is premature

Whangarei's controversial Hundertwasser Arts Centre could be dead in the water by Wednesday.

Eight Whangarei District Councillors will move a motion that the divisive proposal not proceed.

The council has proposed spending up to $13 million on building a Hundertwasser Arts Centre (HAC) at the old Harbour Board Building at the Town Basin and claims it will attract up to 150,000 visitors a year. The Whangarei Art Museum Trust has so far received more than $2 million of funding for it.

At Wednesday's full council meeting a notice of motion was put forward by councillors Stu Bell, Susy Bretherton, Tricia Cutforth, Shelley Deeming, Sue Glen, Phil Halse, Greg Martin and Brian McLachlan that if adopted would effectively kill the proposal. They moved: "That the Hundertwasser project not be included in this year's annual plan and that staff be instructed to remove all reference to the Hundertwasser project in forthcoming workshops and annual plan drafts."


Councillor Martin, one of those behind the motion and stood in the mayoral campaign against HAC, said the eight felt that the centre had not been discussed in the public and the motion was a way of getting that done. He said if the motion "got the numbers" it would kill HAC.

"We can't afford to do it. I think if the real costs of HAC came out - and I think it will be far more than $13 million - well I don't want us to end up like Kaipara and the cost of this could get us heading down that path," Mr Martin said.

"The council is going to put up $8 million and that money would be far better spent on roading, footpaths and other infrastructure that is far more essential than Hundertwasser."

Mayor Sheryl Mai was disappointed by the motion as if it was adopted, it would stymie public discussion.

"It's pre-empting the public having their say. We have got funding applications in [for HAC] and $2 million for it already in the bank. What I hoped was that we would go through the whole process and hopefully have all the money in place before making a final decision, after consulting with the public, on whether to go ahead or not," Ms Mai said.

Northland Tourism Development Group chairman and former district councillor Jeroen Jongejans said it would be a sad day for the district if the plan was kicked out.

"Hundertwasser is a huge opportunity for Whangarei and Northland. It's the chance to create that point of difference that will attract many people to the city," Mr Jongejans said.

"It will also act as a catalyst that will bring other things here. We've been in discussion with NorthPort and Cruise NZ and they are right behind it. NorthPort has indicated it would have a berth at Marsden Pt available for cruise ships to stop and without that point of difference like Hundertwasser it will be much harder to get those cruise ships. Cruise ships bring about $35 million a year into Tauranga and we could attract some of those ships here, but only if we had a major project like Hundertwasser.

"We are also hoping to get a top-class hotel in the CBD, but that won't happen without Hundertwasser."