If it was wrong to remove war memorial features from the Napier Conference Centre, the city council will "not be wrong again" when developing their new home, Napier's mayor has promised.

Furore has surrounded the conference centre for months, since its multimillion-dollar redevelopment - which combined earthquake strengthening, extensions and refurbishment work - was completed.

While the new location boasts the ability to host a variety of functions, some argue the building its ethos and gravitas with the removal of the memorial features - a move which has left residents disgruntled, and feeling as though they were not consulted on this.

Among those upset about the change is the building's original architect, Hawke's Bay native and World War II veteran Guy Natusch.

Advertisement

He designed the original hall, which was built by public subscription in 1956 in memory of those who lost their lives in the World War II conflict. It featured the eternal flame and a roll of honour listing the fallen soldiers' names.

As well as having a close tie to the building, Mr Natusch served in the Royal New Zealand Navy during the war including during the D-Day landings, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

He said he was not only upset with the current Napier City Council, but "with all councils from the 1960s onwards" who had altered the building from its original purpose.

"Never in my career have I had a building so mutilated ... to meet the desires of a council for commercial purposes. It was not built for a commercial purpose, it was a memorial, it was not built to make money," he said.

"It was built so it would be forever a reminder of those who lost their lives."

Mr Natusch said he had spoken out against the change as he thought the only way to make the situation better would be "if the people rose up and spoke against it, and they have".

The council is allowed to remove features under their 2014 Memorials Policy - which is due for review in August.

This states any memorial in Napier is deemed to be owned, and under the unconditional control and management of the council, and that "a memorial can be removed at any time at council's sole discretion".

Advertisement

However, some feel there was not a widespread understanding the features would be removed from the new centre, as the initial plans for the redevelopment included an area to house them.

In late 2015 the council shared plans of their vision for this area - it was envisioned the memorial, which sat in the centre's foyer, would be moved to a new location within the building.

This was described as "a more visible and meaningful setting" - a space which could be entered from Marine Parade, as well as the centre's foyer.

Plans were for a large window within the space, overlooking the area toward the Sound Shell, which would allow for 24-hour viewing of the memorial from a path behind the floral clock.

In April 2016, however, the council resolved to remove this area and other components from the redevelopment. In June, council agreed to change the venues name.

Council manager visitor experiences Sally Jackson said council had consulted with the Napier and Taradale RSAs on both these changes, with their respective presidents approving.

When asked whether there had been any public consultation, Ms Jackson said the discussion on the proposed changes to the Conference Centre were held at an open council meeting and were listed on the agenda.

Napier mayor Bill Dalton was not aware of any public notification of this change.

When asked if he thought in hindsight that public consultation would have been prudent, he said "when anything is controversial you can look back and say we could have consulted better".

"In the mid 1990s when it was converted from a community hall to a conference centre that was one of the most controversial projects ever in Napier," he said.

"There's no question that [doing so] was very beneficial for Napier, just as converting that conference centre into a state of the art conference centre is gong to be beneficial to the Hawke's Bay economy in the future."

The council initially said the features were removed due to "budget constraints".

"We had some challenges with the budget and needed to make some changes to the original plans in order to stay close to our council-approved budget," Ms Jackson said.

"To limit the additional amount required to be funded through loans, the project steering group working on the Conference Centre project needed to identify where costs could be reduced while still achieving the overall delivery of project outcomes."

Other items removed included an internal service lift, and some of the finishings and fixtures.

Mr Dalton said he did not know how much removing the memorial had saved the project.

Other reasons cited for the features' removal included ensuring residents would have access to the memorial, which was hindered sometimes by conference bookings.

There had also been confusion with potential clients over the state of the venue - having "war memorial" in its title meant some clients were reluctant to consider the venue as they thought it would be a memorial hall or RSA.

"Napier City needs to ensure our facility will generate economic benefits for the region through a high level of commercial activity, so this was a barrier we needed to consider removing," Ms Jackson said.

No matter the reasons council had for moving the memorial features, Mr Natusch said the public had expressed they wanted the items returned to the conference centre, "even if this means adapting the complex".

"I strongly object to them [the memorial features] being treated like chattel, being moved from one site to another," he said.

"I believe that the roll of honour and eternal flame must go back on site, and that would be in my view, as an architect, should be at the side of the building in the place of the floral clock."

He felt the clock would be better suited in the sunken gardens, as the perspective would be better enjoyed by people looking down on the slanted face.

The council is currently considering developing a new memorial - until then the roll of honour and eternal flame are being stored in a secure council location.

Earlier this week a Heritage New Zealand representative met with Mr Dalton. The two had agreed to work together to "find an appropriate way forward to build an appropriate war memorial".

At this stage there was no timeframe for the memorial to be built. A working party has been established, who are looking at a range of possible options.

Mr Dalton said these included creating a memorial library at the bottom of the Napier CBD - in Clive Square - and even "re-introducing the war memorial into the conference centre".

"If in the fullness of time we're proven to have gotten this wrong, we only want to have one crack at it [developing the new memorial], so we're not going to get it wrong," he said.

"If we have got it wrong, which I don't accept at this stage, but if we have got it wrong we're not going to get it wrong again, so we're working through it in a proper manner so that we come to a totally appropriate outcome for the city."


ELEMENTS COUNCIL CONSIDERING FOR POSSIBLE NEW MEMORIAL:

- Degree of public access and visibility
- Safety of visitors to site/area 24/7
- Security of the memorial itself in the setting
- Visibility at night for impact
- Proximity and connection to pedestrian routes through the city
- Ability to host dawn service and similar events
- Strength of connection to rising sun
- Ability to be stumbled upon without making a specific journey - on a route rather than solely a destination
- A degree of separation to enable a memorial place to be defined without being confused with other places
- Disabled access
- Car parking proximity