New council fends off Hundertwasser Art Centre funding request - for now

By Lindy Laird

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The Hundertwasser Art Centre folly, above, has been completed and now Northland Inc wants Northland Regional council to stump up $1.5 million for the HAC project. Photo / John Stone
The Hundertwasser Art Centre folly, above, has been completed and now Northland Inc wants Northland Regional council to stump up $1.5 million for the HAC project. Photo / John Stone

A push by Northland Inc to have Northland Regional Council tick off a $1.5 million gift to the Hundertwasser Art Centre didn't get over the line at the new council's first meeting.

All Northland Inc's senior staff accompanied chief executive David Wilson to Tuesday's meeting where five of the nine councillors are new to the role.

It was that unfamiliarity with the NRC's financial systems and Investment and Growth Reserve (IGR) - the fund Northland Inc wants money from for HAC - that saw the newbies successfully defer the decision until February.

Penny Smart, Mike Finlayson, Joce Yeoman, Justin Blaikie and Rick Stolwerk said they did not necessarily oppose the request, but needed more time to consider it.

Old hand John Bain also said he wondered why the decision was being foisted on a new council's first meeting when a previous council that revisited the issue many times had left the matter undecided.

"I have deep concerns about the council funding this project. What happened to 'no cost to the ratepayers?','' Cr Bain said.

"We are moving with a bit too much haste . . . we're being bulldozed."

Deputy chairman David Sinclair warned against putting the decision off when studies about economic benefit to Northland had "been done and done and done".

Kaipara representative Cr Smart questioned why Northland Inc had not brought other loan or other funding options, "rather than just come asking for the money".

Cr Yeoman, from the Coastal North ward, asked if it was financially prudent or responsible for the incoming council to make the call before new members had got to grips with council finances, saying the issue had "been dumped on us".

Northland Inc had asked for the loan to be forgiven (written off) in instalments over four years, with minimal interest paid.

NRC staff assured the council, and chairman Bill Shepherd reiterated, the IGR was not directly sourced from ratepayers and the HAC funding met the distribution criteria.

Responding to concerns that ratepayers outside Whangarei had not been engaged in the HAC consultation process, Mr Shepherd said the IGR itself had passed through "robust consultation processes".

It had helped fund the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, Twin Coast tourism route, Twin Coast Cycle Trail, regional promotions, The Orchard business hub, water management projects and Kawakawa's Hundertwasser toilets.

The IGR has an informal pay-out cap of $1m. Chief executive Malcolm Nicolson and Mr Shepherd said NRC could give larger amounts or shift more money into the fund.

HAC is $3m short of the $16m needed by next June and Mr Wilson hinted that other potential backers would shy away if the NRC did not come to the party sooner rather than later.

- Northern Advocate

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