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It’s back to square one for council

GRAPHIC/TIMES-AGE

Masterton councillors have unanimously voted to ditch efforts to buy a piece of land from Masterton Trust Lands Trust for its $31 million civic facility.

But sentiments remain split on where to build now.

In a public-excluded meeting on Wednesday, councillor Gary Caffell made a bid to revisit the existing town hall site, but this motion was lost 5-6.

A Masterton District Council spokesperson said on Thursday that the council had now directed architects to “explore land at and around the Trust House Recreation Centre as a potential location for the Masterton Civic Facility”.

It is understood the vote to do so was also split 6-5.

The recreation centre land is owned by the council and encompasses the War Memorial Stadium, recreation centre, and pools.

The legal section also spills across Dixon St and encompasses the pump track.

It is also adjacent to the council-owned parking space at Farriers and overlooks recreation areas and the Waipoua River.

Local Democracy Reporting asked the council what the latest decision would mean for the pools, and whether buildings on the site, including the War Memorial Stadium, would be demolished. A spokesperson said investigations were at an early stage.

“We will work with our architects to look at how the land at and around the Trust House Recreation Centre could best be used to create a facility on the space that site offers,” they said.

“That discussion could include options around the existing recreation centre and outdoor pool facilities, the War Memorial Stadium, or the outdoor pool area and adjoining land.”

Earlier costings from 2020, made public under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, showed two options had been discussed for the site at the time.

The first option involved demolition “for the War Memorial only, does not account for demolition of the five-lane pool”, and the second option “assumes demolition of the whole site”.

These options were costed at just over $30m in 2020.

The required footprint of the proposed civic facility is not yet known, but early indications were that the library and archives would be 2800m2 and the flexi-form theatre would be about 730m2. There would also be an information hub, a large customer service area, a pre-function space, and meeting rooms.

Councillors who are also Masterton Trust Lands Trust board members were not included in the discussion or voting to abandon efforts to buy land off Masterton Trust Lands Trust.

These were: Sandy Ryan, Frazer Mailman, Bex Johnson, and Gary Caffell.

All councillors were involved in subsequent discussions and votes.

The Civic Centre Project Committee is set to meet next week.

Earlier this year, Masterton Trust Lands Trust general manager Andrew Croskery confirmed that Masterton District Council had presented an offer to purchase land for the purpose of building a Civic Centre to the trust on December 24, 2021.

That offer was reviewed in early January 2022.

It did not meet the trust’s requirements, and as a result, the trust declined to accept MDC’s offer. — NZLDR

What councillors had to say:

Each of Masterton District Council’s elected members was asked for their thoughts on the latest civic facility decision. Here’s what those who responded had to say.

Tina Nixon

Civic Facility Project Committee Chairperson

We have looked at several sites for the new Civic Facility since the project started.

I am convinced that the area we are now considering is an excellent option for a couple of reasons – it meets the council’s 2020 decision of the north end of town being the preferred location of the Civic Facility, has strong links to Queen Elizabeth Park and the Waipoua River, and it’s land already owned by council.

Our architects will be meeting with the Civic Facility Project Committee at our first meeting later this month to discuss what the options for that site might look like.

Council has committed to being as transparent as possible throughout this process, and that meeting will be live-streamed to allow members of the public to see what is being discussed.

Until now, we couldn’t publicly discuss sites not currently owned by the council due to commercial sensitivity.

However, as that is no longer an issue, we look forward to bringing locals along with us as we explore and develop the Civic Facility design over coming months.

I am excited to see this new community hub come to life.

This is about creating a facility that is reflective of our future population and young families.

Bex Johnson

I was one of five councillors who supported revisiting the town hall site as an option.

To say I am disappointed that this didn’t happen is an understatement.

Both sites are council-owned and need a significant investment, so why not explore both?

My wish was to see design features and costings on both sites presented to the community for public consultation.

Our community would then have all the information it needs to make an informed decision.

I believe we have missed an incredible opportunity to unite the council and the community on the Civic Facility project.

Gary Caffell

I am absolutely gutted that my motion to have the chief executive report back on the implications of revisiting the town hall site as a possible location for the new civic centre was lost by the narrowest of margins.

This was a massive opportunity to overcome the huge divisions surrounding this project, both within council and out in the community.

I have no beef investigating the suitability of the likes of the recreation centre and War Memorial site as a possible site for a new civic centre.

But I also strongly believe that the current town hall site must also be given the exact same consideration.

It is interesting to recall that back in April 2019, consultants Horwath HTL were commissioned to look at the various options for a civic centre, and they noted in their report: “The existing town hall site is seen as preferable to other alternatives, principally on the basis it is central, well recognised, and close to hospitality and retail outlets”.

I know those sentiments are still held by some of our councillors and many out in the community.

The argument that council had already voted to site the new facility at the northern end of town and therefore it has to be there just doesn’t wash with me.

We have seen councillors often have a change of heart through the civic centre process.

In fact, there are some who have gone all the way from voting to demolish the town hall and municipal buildings and building on the town hall site for around $20m to voting for a preferred option which would have seen us building on land not owned by us at a cost over $30m.

That’s a pretty big turnaround by any standards.

Had council taken the opportunity to include the town hall site as a location possibility, we would have clearly illustrated to the community that we are listening to them and that we want to come up with an end result that is palatable to the majority of our people.

That we didn’t is very disappointing to me.

Tim Nelson

I was pleased with the decision to end negotiations with the Masterton Trust Lands Trust for the ‘preferred’ site at the northern end of town.

I have never supported the decision to go ‘north’ and can’t understand the obsession with this idea, as there is no clear definition of what ‘north’ even means; north of Kuripuni; north of Jackson St; north of some invisible line somewhere … who knows?

I was very disappointed that the motion at [Wednesday’s] meeting to direct the chief executive to investigate the impacts of revisiting the existing town hall site was lost.

I saw the motion as an opportunity to at least investigate the feasibility of using the site that appears to have the strong backing of the public.

This could also have rebuilt trust in the council from the community, which I believe is sorely lacking around this issue.

I also felt it could have reunited the council, which is very divided over the civic centre, as the repeated 6-5 votes indicate.

I went into [Wednesday’s] meeting with a degree of hope, but left feeling disappointed.

If the current site was an option along with the Recreation Centre, then I feel that a process could have been followed that could have led to the current site or the Recreation Centre being the eventual location.

However, this isn’t the case; I find the reluctance to even consider the council-owned site to be absolutely staggering and a great opportunity missed!

Chris Peterson

I’m pleased with the decision not to negotiate further to buy the land for the ‘preferred site’ and am happy to now see investigation of council-owned land in the vicinity of the recreation centre which has probably been my preference all along.

 

However, I’m also disappointed that we are not at the same time considering the town hall site.

It might mean reneging on our decision to “look to the north end of town” but that surely is not the end of the world.

Moreover, it would indicate that we are indeed listening to all the people who came out to show what they thought with their’ hands around the town hall’ episode.

This issue has gone on for so long, focusing now here, now there, and involving so many different factors that I believe a lot of people must surely be totally confused.

And I know my position has shifted considerably over time.

There was an opportunity [on Wednesday] to look again, however briefly, at the town hall site and talk through it’s pluses and minuses with those who will pay for whatever we do – the citizens and ratepayers.

We need a community happy with an expensive decision made on their behalf.

For me, covid and, even more emphatically, the growing concern around climate change, brought me to see this issue differently.

There is now a lot more uncertainty about the future and I’d be happier to have a civic centre that does what civic centres do, but is more modestly priced and not so fancy.

Foxton’s is in a repurposed Mitre 10 and we all agreed it looked and worked well.

In everything we do nowadays, we need to consider the carbon implications.

That hasn’t happened to date and means we wouldn’t always first-off look to build everything spanking new but would at least first fully evaluate the use of buildings already standing.

Like our library – why does that need to be incorporated in a brand new structure? We purchased land adjacent to it so we could extend it before we had the bright idea of something bigger and better.

David Holmes

The unanimous decision to not proceed with the proposed civic centre site in the north end of town was the correct decision.

I was extremely disappointed that the motion to include the town hall site as one of the proposed sites to be investigated was lost.

The thought of moving north close to the river staggers me.

Between options and the river there is a state highway.

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