Rotorua Lakes Council received national recognition for its Hemo Gorge roundabout sculpture today.

However, it was perhaps not the sort of recognition the organisation may have hoped for when the project started.

The sculpture was a finalist in the 2020 Jonesie Awards for Government Waste, hosted by the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

In 2017, Rotorua Lakes Council received a "supreme certificate of achievement and imagination" for the controversial spending of $90,000 on mud from South Korea for its Mudtopia festival".


Host of the event Louis Houlbrooke, the Taxpayers' Union's campaigns manager, said a panel of adjudicators "sifted through 542 nominations to present 10 finalists across local and central government".

"These range from the small and absurd to the eye wateringly wasteful," he said.

Co-host and New Zealand Tax Payers' Union research officer Islay Aitchison described the $743,000 Hemo Gorge roundabout sculpture as "a 12m, 3D-printed behemoth".

"[The sculpture] is made from 252km of biodegradable thermo-plastic. Now, our adjudicators couldn't determine why the council decided an outside statue should be biodegradable.

"But the statue, which we assume is meant to symbolise government waste, was set to be installed in 2017 at a price of $500,000 with taxpayers from across the country chipping in for the bill.

"Three years after the planned opening, engineering challenges have blown out the costs and the costs and the pieces are ... still under construction, with no known completion date."

Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association (RDRR) chairwoman Glenys Searancke described the sculpture as "a laughing stock" and urged the council to consider more meaningful consultation around future projects.

"We do see it as a waste of money. Over $700,000 is a lot of money for a sculpture and it's too late now, they're too far down the track - it should've been stopped long before it got to that figure.


"It's been controversial and I know people are appalled at what it is costing. It has become a laughing stock and these awards show that.

"We believe [the sculpture] will be a distraction for drivers as well, I can imagine visitors coming from the south, gawping at that and forgetting to give way," she said.

Hemo Gorge sculpture under construction at the beginning of this year. Photo / File
Hemo Gorge sculpture under construction at the beginning of this year. Photo / File

Rotorua Lakes Council missed out on the local government Jonesie Award for Government Waste. It went instead to "Wellington mayor Andy Foster for extraordinary leadership".

The organisers said: "When nine-term councillor Andy Foster was unexpectedly elected mayor last year, he promptly enrolled himself in a $30,000 leadership course at Arrowtown's Millbrook estate. However, he has refused to say what, if anything, he learned and has since spent more money on a team facilitator to smooth over problems on his council."

Rotorua Lakes Council and Kilwell Fibretube, the local company contracted to build the statue, declined to comment on being a finalist and were not able to provide an update on the sculpture's progress.

The Hemo Gorge sculpture under construction earlier this year. Photo / File
The Hemo Gorge sculpture under construction earlier this year. Photo / File