An elaborate and long-awaited plan to revive the Hamilton Zoo will go ahead, despite huge uncertainty where the millions of dollars required to fund it will come from.
Today's decision came as Hamilton City Council chief executive Richard Briggs admitted he was unsure whether new health and safety actions taken after the death of zoo keeper Samantha Kudeweh would be enough to mitigate any potential risks and guarantee the safety of staff, visitors and neighbours.
The master plan, which will cost $15.688 million to implement, was put on hold for two-and-a-half years while council was being prosecuted over the keeper's death in September 2015 and was finally made public in February this year after the Herald urged the Ombudsman to intervene and release the information.
The five-phase plan proposed to be implemented over 10 years included a major redevelopment and new initiatives such as overnight glamping, new cafe and gift shop and a new area housing tigers and otters.
The public consultation process received 194 submissions with 83 per cent of submitters agreeing the plan would meet the zoo's outcome of being fun and supporting conservation, education and sustainability.
Only 47 per cent supported the plan being funded by a combination of admission fees, general rates, a targeted rate and community partnership and sponsorship while 10 per cent did not want it funded it all.
Hamilton Zoo director Stephen Standley acknowledged that some submitters thought the council was "numpties" for putting out a plan without funding implications.
However he said the whole point of putting the plan out was to attract funding interest and believed a figure of 30 per cent coming from external funding and sponsorship was achievable.
The zoo currently attracted 130,000 visitors annually and he believed there was potential to increase that to 250,000 a year through the new plan. In comparison Auckland Zoo attracted between 700,000 and 750,000 visitors a year.
Hamilton Zoo is currently costing ratepayers $3m a year after costs, which equated to subsidising $23.88 each visitor - almost the same cost of the $23 adult ticket.
Mayor Andrew King criticised the director for presenting the report in a biased way and felt he was trying to sell the plan to council.
"I'm not comfortable the presentation was done in a neutral way."
King said part of the plan where people would be offered to tent next to wild animals in cages was "ludicrous".
He said the council had already spent $1m in the last term on plans that did not eventuate and he was not going to support another. The master plan cost council $80,000 to develop.
"Our city is borrowing $4m a year just to maintain existing services." He would not support spending $15 million the council did not have.
He also did not feel comfortable that the council could guarantee the safety of staff, visitors and neighbours to the zoo if they did "stupid things" despite the extra measures taken after Kudeweh's death.
Briggs said he did not know at this stage and told him all but one recommendation, which was to put a cover on the chimpanzees' cage, had been carried out and once completed he would be reviewing it within six months to see whether the council was successfully mitigating the large risks associated with housing wild animals.
"At this point of time I can't actually answer whether the work we are doing will mitigate it to that extent."
Councillors Angela O'Leary, who was involved in creating the Zoo Master Plan, said the zoo was a magical place with magical animals and was a fun place people could go to other than the mall.
She also urged the council to follow the wish of submitters.
Councillor Mark Bunting supported the plan but rubbished the submission process saying he got more responses on his personal Facebook page.
Bunting said the zoo was an investment for the city and would complement the Hamilton Gardens.
"God knows we don't have a mountain, we don't have a beach - we need stuff."
Geoff Taylor voted for the proposal but expressed doubt over where the money would come from and said there needed to be some clever plans to attract external funders.
Taylor said it was a good plan that was light on funding details and felt a lot of the projects "would not see the light of day".
Councillor Martin Gallagher said neighbouring councils whose ratepayers also used the city's good facilities needed to start paying towards them and suggested introducing a Hamilton card where residents would get a discount.
Councillor Garry Mallett said he put people before animals so would not be voting to spend money on housing animals when some people they represented did not have anywhere to live.
The motion was passed eight to four and will be considered as part of the council's Long Term Plan discussions.
The vote for the Hamilton Zoo Master Plan