Mayor John Carter made it clear at the outset that there would be no guarantees when he addressed a public meeting at Taipa on Sunday, called to discuss the future of the Oruru Hall (Swamp Palace).

But he was left in no doubtabout what was expected of the council.

The loudest round of applause was earned by the speaker who demanded that the money budgeted by the council for maintenance of the hall in 2014-15, but never spent, should be taken from the "stupid" waterfront development at Mangonui, and from the cost of demolishing the old single-lane Taipa bridge, soon to be surplus to traffic requirements.

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The cost of dismantling the old bridge will be met by the NZTA, not the district council.

The discussion on Sunday was generally good-natured, but the 80-odd people who turned out were in no mood to compromise. They all believed that councils had, over many years, failed to meet their obligation to maintain the hall.

Tracey McClurg's sentiments were shared by everyone present.
Tracey McClurg's sentiments were shared by everyone present.

It had now reached the point where it had been closed by the council in response to significant health and safety concerns. A report commissioned by the councils said that it was still standing, largely thanks to "nails holding hands".

Mr Carter did not dispute claims that the council and its predecessors, dating back to the Mangonui County Council prior to 1989, had failed the community, but saw little point in apportioning blame.

The issue now, he said, was to find a way forward, bearing in mind that the Far North was home to 27 halls, which, along with parks and reserves, were costing ratepayers $1 million a year.

At least 10 of those halls needed similar "input" as Oruru's, at a collective cost of perhaps $6 million.

Funding options could include levying a ward rate, a more targeted rate, or seeking funds from other sources, including Historic NZ.

The council could not apply for such funding, but the community could, if the council divested ownership of the hall to the Oruru and Inland Valleys Ratepayer Association.


The council and the association undertook to examine that option with some urgency. Mr Carter said he wanted to make progress as quickly as possible. He reiterated that need for haste to the Northland Age later in the day.

The sum of $190,000 was available now from the council's depreciation fund and while that was well short of the council's 2014 estimate of the $593,000 cost of completing all deferred maintenance, it would be a start, he said.

Mr Carter also believed that the community could do much of the work required for significantly less than it would cost the council, the meeting agreeing that the required skills were to be found, and would be made available, within the community.

He was sure there was "lots" that the council could do to support the association and the community, but reiterated that any decisions would be made by the full council, not at Taipa on Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile association deputy chair Kath Adams, who said the community felt "pretty let down," pointed out that the association could not apply for funding from outside sources until structural repairs had been completed, and did not have the ability to fund those repairs.

She wanted the council to provide a timeline, and much better communication than in the past.

The association had a business plan, and shared the universal sentiment that the hall, originally part of the cable station at Cable Bay, was a very special, historically significant asset for the community, she said.

Only one person present supported the option of spending $593,000 on building a new hall.

The list of issues needing attention, detailed in the council report — which claimed that the hall was at some risk of collapsing — was a long one, although the council representatives were told that some of that work had been done some time ago, and that its information was out of date.

Regardless, the cost of repairs now were seen as the result of council negligence over many years. Numerous speakers stated that the council owed the money for those repairs to the community.

"The money is there, and we need it now," one speaker said.