The Okere Falls Beerfest at Labour Weekend is a popular date on many locals' calendars. But a sudden difference in their event requirements means next year's festival is looking dicey. Kelly Makiha reports.
For 12 years, hundreds of people have flocked to Okere Falls Store for the annual Okere Falls Beerfest on Labour Weekend.
Bands, DJs, beer tasting and food mixed with punters dressed in traditional beerfest costumes have seen a fun atmosphere with about 300 people flocking to the ticketed events on the Fridays and Saturdays of Labour Weekend.
However, this year organisers learnt the festival needed a traffic management plan given the size of the event and the fact it is held off a State Highway, at the Okere Falls Store, between Rotorua and Tauranga.
Store owner Sarah Uhl said the plan costs a lot of money and the future of the festival was now up in the air. A meeting will be held this week to decide what to do.
She said the traffic management plan requirement was picked up when the store applied for a resource consent earlier in the year to do with an addition to its kitchen.
"It popped up as a red flag that if we are running a festival with more than 100 people, NZTA needed a traffic management plan."
The plan at this year's event cost about $5000, $2500 for each day, and covered the costs of running the plan - including laying out all the cones on State Highway 33 outside the store, operating stop/go signals and reducing the speed limit to 30km/h around the store.
She said that at the time the festival was already advertised and tickets had been sold, meaning they had no choice but to go ahead.
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She said the additional cost meant the festival didn't make money.
"That's a lot of money when we are only selling 300 tickets."
She said many hospitality businesses suffered during winter and were only propped up by summer.
"We can pay the bills in summer but in winter we really struggle. The beerfest always has been good for that backup. People enjoyed it and it's booked out every year."
Uhl said they were also seriously considering whether a beerfest was what they wanted to align with given they were known as being an environmentally friendly and sustainable business.
"It does create a lot of noise and is it what the community wants because we want to tie in with them too?"
She said all festivals had a timeline and she questioned whether it was better to end it now while everyone had good memories, rather than let it "putter out".
Another option was seeing if the festival should be held elsewhere, and not on a state highway.
"There are lots of things to consider," Uhl said.
New Zealand Transport Agency Bay of Plenty transport system manager Rob Campbell said the store's festival attracted a significant number of people over a relatively short period of time.
He said it had the potential to undermine the safe and efficient operation of the state highway if not properly managed.
"On-site parking is not sufficient to accommodate demand, so there is significant spill over parking on to the state highway, which is an aspect that also needs to be managed in addition to traffic and pedestrian movements."
He said safety was exacerbated by the fact people were coming and going mainly in the dark near a bend on a 70km/h road with no designated pedestrian crossings.
"In previous years, these events were unauthorised and were operating without the requisite approval of council, the New Zealand Transport Agency."
He said the traffic management plans cost money because they are run by accredited organisations which were private companies charging market rates.