For the first time the public of Whangarei will be surveyed to find out if they want the controversial Hundertwasser Arts Centre to go ahead before the council commits any more funds to the project.

The Whangarei District Council yesterday voted to conduct a telephone survey of residents with the results to then inform its future decision making on the divisive project.

Councillors also voted that no further council funding be committed to HAC until results of the community survey, with the wording of the telephone survey to be confirmed by a majority of councillors.

No date has been set for the telephone survey - which will be of properties in the district that have land lines - and councillors yesterday spent one hour 45 minutes discussing the issue.


It was also the first time the matter had been debated to any extent in a public council meeting as most previous discussions on HAC have been held behind closed doors in workshops or confidential meetings.

Yesterday councillors initially had a motion from eight councillors - Stu Bell, Susy Bretherton, Tricia Cutforth, Shelley Deeming, Sue Glen, Phil Halse, Greg Martin and Brian McLachlan - "That the Hundertwasser project not be included in this year's [2014] annual plan and that staff be instructed to remove all reference to the Hundertwasser project in forthcoming workshops and annual plan drafts."

Cr Martin said information presented to councillors in those confidential meetings could not be made public, which included details of the ongoing costs to council of the centre.

"We have had to do this notice of motion to get it out in the public arena," he said.

Cr Halse said the purpose of the motion from the eight was not to kill the project but to finally get it out into the public of the council chamber.

He said the issue had been talked about in the council for a number of years but there was confusion about it in the community and it did not make sense to sell council property to pay for projects like HAC.

Cr Cherry Hermon moved an amendment: "That council proceed with the Hundertwasser project to consent [stage] in line with our current commitments to the Long Term Plan and existing contractual obligations. That a telephone survey be conducted as part of a special consultative procedure with the public and government specifically related to the Hundertwasser Project. [And], wording of the survey from a professional company to be approved by council."

Cr Hermon said she believed the majority of people wanted HAC, and she thought it would be great for the district, so it should not just be dumped before the public had had their say.

Cr Cutforth said the council had so far spent over $2 million on HAC with no democratic decision from the council or the community to proceed.

The motion was tied 7-7 with mayor Sheryl Mai using her casting vote to vote against it, therefore allowing the further amendment from Cr Deeming. Mayor Mai said the public had been consulted on HAC through the council's annual plan and long term plan processes.

"We do want to consult with our community (on HAC) - and we will do that," she said.

The council has proposed spending up to $13 million on building a Hundertwasser Arts Centre at the old Harbour Board Building at the Town Basin - with $8 million to come from the council - 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.