Former NZ First MP Shane Jones, who, as regional economic development minister was responsible for the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) said it was time for the council to make the right decision and decide in favour of the $136 million Oruku Landing conference and event centre.
WDC is today making its decision on whether to proceed with and part-fund the centre ahead of the November 30 Government funding uptake deadline for its $60 million earmarked for the project.
Jones was responsible for the shovel ready funding earmarked for the proposed centre.
"Whangārei is not rich enough to reject $60 million," Jones said.
He said councillors had to cut through the background noise from ratepayers against the centre and make a decision that some might view as tough at the time.
"I am putting a shot across the bow [of the council waka]. I am fearful the council won't make the right decision."
WDC received its biggest-ever confirmed final figure of 5197 submissions about the centre in a month-long October 18 to November 18 public consultation period.
Of the confirmed 5181 submissions processed, 4022, or 78 per cent, wanted the council to can the Oruku Landing conference and event centre, 964 submissions, or 18 per cent, were in favour of WDC instead going ahead with it, and195 submissions, or 4 per cent, that were neutral or did not state a preferred position.
"Civic leaders need to be bold, they need to see beyond the current din," Jones said.
The $136 million centre is proposed to be funded with $60 million from the Government's shovel ready funding, $6 million from Northland Regional Council (NRC) and up to $70 million from Whangārei District Council (WDC).
Jones stopped short of predicting which way he thought today's council meeting decision vote would go – but he said he was concerned councillors would potentially vote not to proceed.
He said this was not the right move.
If they did not vote yes today they would lose the $60 million – and likely other prospects for future Government funding.
He said WDC had to consider the centre in the context of major unemployment facing the district in the wake of this week's decision that Marsden Point Oil Refinery would stop producing fuel and instead become a storage terminal only.
"We've just had the closure of the refinery, WDC is about to potentially extinguish one of the few economic bright spots we now have."
The council had tried, unsuccessfully, to get other Government funding and entities to Whangārei, including the Devonport Naval Base, a drydock and four-laning to the district.
It was now potentially at risk of turning down $60 million Government funding.
"When our Cabinet signed off on the $60 million for the Oruku Landing conference and event centre, we never anticipated that the councillors might reject that," Jones said.
"Whangārei District Council appears to be at risk of saying 'take that money and put it where the sun don't shine'."
He said the earlier $20 million PGF funding towards the Town Basin's Hundertwasser Art Centre had been towards a now world-class facility that some had previously had issues with.
The proposed conference centre is being funded by ratepayers from around Northland through NRC rates and a 1.4 per cent rates rise.
Jones said WDC turning down the $60 million Oruku Landing conference and event centre funding was potentially putting at risk future Government funding toward Whangārei's new airport.
He said it was not the case that all were against the centre, it was the case that those who were opposed were simply making a lot of noise.