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‘The council is pre-empting the democratic process’

Several hundred people gathered in Masterton’s recreation centre site to protest the council’s civic centre plans. PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV

CIVIC CENTRE PROTEST

MARY ARGUE
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Calls for a referendum are being added to demands for a pause on Masterton District Council’s [MDC] controversial civic centre project.

Hundreds of protesters flooded the north end of Masterton on Saturday, led by organisers who accused the council of “bulldozing ahead” with plans to take away community facilities.

Although the figures varied through the day, the protest’s numbers appeared to be approaching 800. However, protest organisers Masterton Action Group [MAG] and Masterton Ratepayers and Residents Association [MRRA] said numbers were well above 1000.

The second demonstration against the civic centre came after architectural sketches showed options to build the $30 million facility at Masterton’s recreation centre site.

Some sketches proposed the demolition of the outdoor lido pool, parts of the War Memorial Stadium, and a smaller indoor lane pool.

Saturday’s protesters called for a referendum on the civic centre and demanded the council pause on the controversial project.

Mayor Lyn Patterson said Masterton residents were entitled to express their views. However, she feared people were responding to misinformation. She said the architectural sketches were not intended as options for the facility.

“The council received only early sketches from our architect, and no plans or proposals have been received.

“I am concerned misinformation by some in our community has caused unnecessary anxiety for our facility users.”

In attendance on Saturday were vocal project opponents, councillors Gary Caffell and Bex Johnson.

Caffell said the number of people showed the depth of feeling about the civic centre project.

“People are really engaged, people are really getting united over it.”

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Johnson said it was important to protect Masterton’s recreation area.

“We need to keep this [the pools] and the library where it is.

“I look forward to having the civic facility in the town centre.”

Speakers included former mayor Bob Francis, MRRA president David Farlow and Masterton Swimming Club president Robyn Prior.

Bob Francis speaks at the protest.

Francis said the council was sending mixed messages about the civic centre and said its obsession with a site at the north end of the central business district was hard to comprehend.

He said with only five months until elections, the council was pre-empting the democratic process.

“It is critical that we delay any major decisions at this time,” he said.

Master of Ceremonies and MAG member Warwick Delmonte said organisers were pleased with the turnout and were optimistic the council would listen.

“The volume has been turned up to a rather deafening level.

“It’s well in excess of 1000. We have proof now. We have some numbers.”

Addressing the crowd, he said organisers were not against a civic centre and believed Masterton would benefit from such a facility.

“But at what cost?

“The council thinks that cost should probably include the pools behind you and the stadium. It should definitely include the library.”

Delmonte said councillors in favour of the civic centre were “having second thoughts”.

“So grow a pair and do the right thing. – push pause.”

When asked to show support for a civic centre referendum with this year’s local body election, the several hundred people gathered raised their hands.

Farlow said the council was not transparent in their process and said protesting once a decision on the civic facility site was made would be ineffectual.

“How stupid do they think we are?”

MAG member Hewitt Harrison said the “bulk of the community” was not behind the civic centre plans and said the only valid site for the facility was at the town hall, an option rejected by the council after consultation on the long-term plan.

He said the new council voted into office in October should review the project plans and consult with the community.

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