Rotorua's council has bowed to public pressure and has backtracked on controversial plans to use South Korean mud at its upcoming Mudtopia festival.
However, it has refused to say whether the $90,000 paid for the mud will be refunded.
The decision to proceed without the imported mud comes on the same day as the launch of a nationwide petition, run by the New Zealand Tax Payers' Union in conjunction with the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association (RDRR), asking the Rotorua Lakes Council to veto the importation of $90,000 of Korean mud to be used at the event.
The council had come under fire for its decision to import five tonnes of cosmetic grade mud from South Korea at a cost of $90,000 spread over five years.
In a statement today, the council's operations group acting manager Henry Weston said the Mudtopia festival, to be held at Arawa Park racecourse on December 1-3, would be staged without imported cosmetic mud powder.
"Given ongoing public concern regarding the importation of cosmetic mud powder from South Korea, the decision has been made to run the festival without it," he said. "This decision follows a meeting with the event's advisory board and delivery partners."
Mr Weston said Mudtopia was inspired by the Boryeong mud festival in South Korea and the purchase of highly treated cosmetic grade mud powder was part of a reciprocal arrangement with Boryeong in exchange for intellectual property, advice and promotion of the Rotorua event.
"The festival team had been working with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for over a year to ensure there would be no biosecurity risk and the product's importation was subject to meeting all border requirements.
"However, given the heightened public unease and the importance of needing to alleviate that, we have made the decision to proceed without the imported product.
"Our contacts in Boryeong have been informed and we will now work with them on a new agreement reflective of the importance of the partnership. Their expertise and advice has been crucial, enabling us to establish the Rotorua festival.
"Our focus now is on delivering an outstanding event," he said.
In a separate statement, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said despite best efforts to reassure the public about the safety of Korean cosmetic mud powder, "the public perception is that a risk remains".
"In light of that I asked that the event organisers consider removing the imported mud from the equation. I'm pleased that decision has now been made so that we can move on and focus on organising a great event.
"The cosmetic mud product was to have been used to promote South Korea's Boryeong mud festival which, in exchange, is providing intellectual property and advice and promoted Rotorua's event at its recent 2017 festival.
"Council remains committed to the festival," she said.
"There is a bigger picture involved in the economic benefits and opportunities major events like this can bring, and they cannot happen without council and other support to get them off the ground so they can eventually become self-sustaining. Sometimes that means council owning them, at least initially.
"The impact of today's decision on our agreement and relationship with the Boryeong festival is something that will now be worked through."
The Rotorua Daily Post asked the council follow-up questions, including what would happen to the $90,000.
However, a council spokeswoman replied the council "has no further comment to make today regarding Mudtopia" and referred us to its statement and the mayor's statement.
RDRR chairwoman Glenys Searancke said the council should apologise for its actions and take responsibility for its "ridiculous decision", instead of "trying to blame" others for "undermining the Mudtopia festival".
"RDRR members were horrified by the proposed waste of $90,000 to buy mud, the potential bio-security and health risks, and the very poor judgment involved," she said.
RDRR secretary Reynold MacPherson said a genuine apology "would provide an honourable end to this sordid affair".
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said the council made the right decision "as the issue was becoming a distraction to what is otherwise a good idea".
"Mudtopia retains the potential to promote Rotorua as a must-visit destination and bring many more visitors to our city. We are famous for geothermal attractions, world-class spa facilities and our mud - this festival can showcase the best of Rotorua to the world.
"Concerns were raised by the rural community around the imports and we risked losing public confidence in the event. Council's decision today is pragmatic and shows they have listened to these concerns.
"I will be buying a ticket and taking my family along, all of Rotorua can now get behind Mudtopia."
- Total budget of $1.8 million for year one.
- Rotorua Lakes Council will cover up to $500,000, if the festival makes a loss.
- Funding includes a Government grant of $1.5 million spread over five years.
- Other funding streams are from sponsorship and ticket sales.
- Will be held at Arawa Park racecourse on December 1-3.