Rotorua district councillors have voted to go "back to the drawing board" when it comes to making a decision on the management of the city's Aquatic Centre.

At a Rotorua Lakes Council meeting today, councillors spent almost two hours debating the topic and the vote eventually came down to the wire.

It came after months of controversy over the council's decision to outsource management to Community Leisure Management (CLM).

Aquatic Centre staff were allowed to compile and present an initial proposal to the committee this month after the Amalgamated Workers Union complained to the Employment Relations Authority the process of engagement with the union was inadequate.

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Today, six councillors voted to move a committee recommendation to "go back to the drawing board and properly consider all management options including the staff proposal and development opportunities for the aquatic centre". Five opposed the recommendation.

At the start of the meeting, mayor Steve Chadwick asked the packed public gallery not to clap or distract the councillors.

But when the decision was made, there was cheering and clapping.

Councillor Rob Kent moved the recommendation.

"This recommendation was nothing about awarding the contract to CLM. It said take a step back, do the comparisons properly, and if the answer is to award it to CLM, go ahead and do so. But do the job properly first," Kent said.

"I for one was totally dissatisfied with the [council] staff's review of the [aquatic centre] staff's proposal."

Councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait originally said she would vote against the proposal but changed her mind at the last minute to sway the vote. She said she was interested in looking at the staff proposal.

"It was developed with a different lens from any other proposal," she said.

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"I believe that it could stand on its own merits and it could do the job."

Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said he couldn't support the recommendation because it was ambiguous. He said it wasn't in line with council's priority of "cost effective and efficient council services".

Chadwick agreed.

"I'm very confident in Community Leisure Management because I've spoken to mayors in cities where they operate. However there are aspects of the staff model I like and I think they are worthy of consideration," she said.

Councillor Charles Sturt said the moved recommendation was a backwards step.

Councillors spent almost two hours debating the topic. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
Councillors spent almost two hours debating the topic. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

Council chief executive Geoff Williams said the recommendation was effectively asking the council to repeat what it had already done.

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"The recommendation is effectively to repeat a piece of work properly. What you're looking for is different answers. A redoing of the work may not result in that different answer," he said.

"The risk is we as staff could repeat the work … and still come back to the same place as we are today."

After the meeting, Amalgamated Workers Union Rotorua representative Robert Popata told the Rotorua Daily Post the union and staff hadn't expected such a robust debate on the topic but the result was "fantastic".

"It gives Rotorua the opportunity to look at everything and now that council have been instructed to go back to the drawing board they will work with us," Popata said.

"We're not saying everything should stay they same, we need change."

Popata said the union, which represented some aquatic centre staff, was looking forward to working with the council.

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CLM chief executive Craig Carter told the Rotorua Daily Post in a written statement the company would continue to support the council with an acting manager at the facility.

"We look forward to working alongside the council and pool community and assist the Aquatic Centre to operate and grow to its potential."

How they voted:
For the recommendation: Peter Bentley, Mark Gould, Rob Kent, Raj Kumar, Tania Tapsell and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait.

Against the recommendation: Steve Chadwick, Dave Donaldson, Karen Hunt, Trevor Maxwell and Charles Sturt.