An electronic sign slating Rotorua's Hemo Gorge roundabout sculpture as a "monument to waste" will be investigated for potentially breaching district plan rules.
The sign is located on private land bordering Mokoia Drive and SH5, about 100m from the Hemo Gorge roundabout where the 12m-high 3D-printed sculpture Te Ahi Tupua stands.
The sign reads "Monument to waste ahead" and "Cost: $747,000 and counting".
The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has claimed responsibility for the sign, with help from the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers group (RDRR), which installed it. A volunteer turns the sign on each day.
Union spokesman Jordan Williams said in a statement the monument was installed three years behind schedule and $240,000 over budget. He said the group understood the final bill would be even higher once the, in his opinion, "botched" installation was finished.
The Rotorua Lakes Council says the project has been complex, and the manufacturer, Kilwell, says people should wait until the installation is finished and the lights are switched on to pass judgement.
The sculpture, designed to represent the arrival of geothermal activity in Rotorua, was transferred from Kilwell to the Hemo Gorge roundabout on September 12.
The installation process is taking longer than expected, with finishing touches due next month.
Williams said the sculpture did not look like the grand concept designs.
"The monument looks a bit like flames going up into the air. It takes little imagination to see it's taxpayer and ratepayer money going up in smoke."
He said the group was glad to "expose to holiday period travellers how Rotorua District Lakes Council and the New Zealand Transport Authority have squandered public money while so many households struggle to make ends meet, and roads need basic maintenance."
RDRR spokesman and district councillor Reynold Macpherson said the council could not expect ratepayers to tolerate year after year of rate hikes "when we've now literally got a monument showing how that money is wasted".
The Rotorua Daily Post put the union and RDRR statements to the Rotorua Lakes Council and Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency for a response.
Council acting chief executive Craig Tiriana said the sculpture was a partnership project, the primary partners being Waka Kotahi, the council, the designers Te Puia and local firm Kilwell which constructed it.
The council's total contribution remained $388,000, he said.
Other funders and contributors included: Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency ($200,000), Kilwell Fibretube, New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute |Te Puia, Rotorua Trust ($25,000), Rotorua Community Arts Trust ($15,000), Lion Foundation ($5000), Infinity Foundation ($5000), Red Stag Timber ($25,000), Rotorua Public Arts Trust (fundraising), he said.
"It was a complex project, something never done before, and required a high level of innovation by Kilwell to overcome challenges along the way, so it took longer than originally estimated. Installation was also a challenge but the sculpture was successfully put into place and Kilwell is undertaking final installation works which are nearing completion."
Tiriana said it was not unusual for artwork to generate different opinions.
He confirmed the sign had been reported to the council "and we are therefore obliged to investigate".
Because it had been placed on private property, it did not breach council bylaws.
However, council staff will now need to consider whether there are any breaches to the Rotorua district plan and what, if any, action should be taken. This would happen when the appropriate staff became available.
Tiriana referred queries regarding timing and extra costs related to final installation of the sculpture to Kilwell.
Kilwell chief executive Craig Wilson said the sculpture now just needed a panel and lights to be installed to be complete. This was expected to be done by mid-January.
"The actual build of the sculpture is finished."
Wilson said in response to the sign and concerns raised by the union and RDRR that everyone was entitled to their opinion.
"I think, when the lights are in, it's going to look really cool. They should wait until it's finished and then have a look at it and then have a think about it. I'm going to wait until it's finished until I pass judgement and I think other people should too."
Wilson said he believed the sculpture looked better than originally planned and made for a great entrance into the city.
A Waka Kotahi spokeswoman initially said if the digital sign had been on the transport agency's roadside reserve, it would have it removed because it had not been authorised and was a potential distraction and danger to road users in terms of keeping their minds on driving safely.
Waka Kotahi Bay of Plenty system manager Rob Campbell later confirmed the sign was on private property and would be managed by the council's district plan rules.
Williams said the sign was political speech protected under the Bill of Rights, which district plans must comply with.
The union was erecting more signs this afternoon.