A sculpture to be built at the entrance to Kerikeri with government cash will be controversial — and that's exactly what public art should be, former Green MP David Clendon says.

Clendon, now a Far North District councillor, was the MC during Friday afternoon's announcement of $8 million worth of projects to be built in Kerikeri thanks to grants from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

Another $1m, also announced by Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones, will go towards council dog pounds at Kaikohe and Kaitaia.

The sculpture, called Te Haa o Te Ao (The Breath of the World), will cost $550,000 and was designed by Kerikeri artist Chris Booth at the request of local hapū Ngāti Rēhia.

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Although originally planned for the top of Bulls Gorge it will now be built next to the Kerikeri Rd-State Highway 10 intersection, where it will symbolise the town's efforts – or lack thereof – to combat climate change.

Artist's impression of Te Haa o Te Ao, a climate change-themed sculpture designed by Chris Booth. Photo / supplied
Artist's impression of Te Haa o Te Ao, a climate change-themed sculpture designed by Chris Booth. Photo / supplied

"Like all good public art it will be controversial, and that's good because it will get people talking," Clendon said.

The councillor's prediction has already been proven correct by a furore on social media over the artwork.

Although Booth's sculpture has so far sparked the strongest reaction, it was by far the smallest project announced by Jones to a packed Turner Centre hall on Friday.

The other Kerikeri projects are:
■ $3m for Kerikeri Domain rejuvenation.
■ $2.45m to rebuild Rangitane jetty.
■ $2m to help develop new sports facilities at Waipapa.

Clendon likened the sudden flood of money to Northland's weather, where record-breaking drought was followed by months' worth of rain in a few hours.

"The North has had long periods without funding from central government so I'm pleased to see there has been a cloudburst in recent weeks," he said.

Jones' string of announcements had given the council the welcome problem of how to spend all the money well and on time, because some of the funding was tagged to completion dates.

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The star of the event was first-term councillor Rachel Smith, who was credited with getting the funding for the Waipapa and Kerikeri Domain projects across the line.

Smith said she was driven by the need to invest in the district's youth and hence its future.

The funding had happened so quickly there was as yet no firm plan on how to spend the $3m on the Domain but, as set out in the reserve management plan, the green space would be preserved.

Friday's announcement included $3 million to rejuvenate Kerikeri Domain. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Friday's announcement included $3 million to rejuvenate Kerikeri Domain. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Potential projects included upgrades to the playground, the skate park and basketball court, and a new multi-purpose community facility for use by groups such as Mai Lyfe, a youth centre based at the pavilion until it was damaged in an arson attack in 2016.

The codes likely to see the most immediate benefit from new Waipapa sports fields are cricket and league, both of which are homeless, and football, which has outgrown its facilities at BaySport.

Timothy O'Leary, captain of The Makos rugby league club, said having a base would finally allow the club to open up to junior members.

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Booth said landscaping on the roundabout itself and carvings by Ngāti Rēhia artists would be included in the sculpture project, which would eventually become a destination in itself.

He and Ngāti Rēhia kuia Nora Rameka had been pushing the project along for seven years with little progress until community group Our Kerikeri got involved a few months ago.

"We're just so relieved. We tried so hard. Then Our Kerikeri got in behind us, and their professionalism, youth, energy and passion for the community made all the difference."

Even the man writing out the cheques, however, admitted he didn't "get" the sculpture.

Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones presents Far North District councillor Rachel Smith with a bouquet for her efforts on behalf of the Kerikeri community. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones presents Far North District councillor Rachel Smith with a bouquet for her efforts on behalf of the Kerikeri community. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Jones said the Rangitane jetty upgrade was important because ordinary Northlanders were increasingly being shut out of the Bay of Islands, one of New Zealand's jewels, by wealthy foreigners buying up coastal land.

Rangitane residents concerned the development could affect their way of life could still have their say via the resource consent process, he said.

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Jones also paid tribute to Smith, who had convinced him that new sports facilities and the chance to "move the community on from the rut of discord over the Domain" would be a boon for Kerikeri.

All the projects granted funding on Friday had originated from people in the Kerikeri community. None had come from Treasury or Parliament, Jones said.