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Town hall to be sold?

A Masterton councillor says the town hall is planned to be sold. PHOTO/FILE

Consultation needed before town hall call

Masterton is getting a new civic centre. But has that sealed the fate of the historic town hall and municipal buildings? One councillor thinks so, reports EMILY IRELAND.

Masterton District Council plans to sell the town hall and municipal buildings, should its Long-Term Plan go ahead, according to councillor Gary Caffell.

But the council says no decision has been made regarding the future of the buildings.

Caffell dropped this bombshell at Wednesday’s council meeting, at which the draft LTP was approved to be audited before going to public consultation.

Since the closure of the town hall in 2016 due to earthquake risk, the council has engaged with the community to help shape what a new civic facility for Masterton should be.

The decision was made to explore alternative locations within Masterton for the new facility because the present site was not large enough for council to build what it needed.

“A new location will allow us to develop a facility of the size and scale that meets the future needs of our tamariki and mokopuna, will be better connected to the Waipoua and Queen Elizabeth Park, and allow us to develop an arts and cultural heart for Masterton,” the draft document said.

Caffell said the council should be telling the public “what we are doing with the [town hall and municipal] buildings”, or at least “give them a hint”.

“Every time I talk to people about this plan, the question always comes back, what are we doing with the buildings?”

“At the end of the day, if things work out for us, they will be put up for sale.”

But Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the proposed site for the new civic centre had not been signed off, and the process to finalise it was commercially sensitive.

“No decision has been made about the future of the existing town hall and municipal building.

“The law requires us to have taken action to address the earthquake-prone status of the building by 2026.

“We need to complete our community consultation and decision-making on the proposed civic facility and site before we make this decision.”

The civic centre facility proposed in the draft LTP is set to cost $30.8 million and would include a flexi-form theatre with seating for 500 people, a new library and archives, information hub with council services, an exhibition space, meeting rooms, and kitchen facilities.

Councillors Tina Nixon and Bex Johnson commended the work done by council staff in creating the draft document.

Nixon said she wanted a minimum of $8m to be from external funders towards the civic centre facility to ease the burden on ratepayers.

The council said it intended to secure contributions from external parties such as central government and trusts to help with the costs and were seeking feedback on the level of the contribution that was necessary to make this project affordable.

“The new civic facility, along with our town centre upgrade, is part of our vision to create future-proofed spaces and places for our community, while still incorporating our history.

“This is one of the most important things we will deliver for our community.

“We want to do it once, do it right and create something we can all be proud of.”

In 2019, Nixon’s campaign in the local body elections was built around slashing rates.

She said the council deserved a “pat on the back” for its relatively low rates increases compared with Wellington.

She slammed the auditing process for the LTP and said it was “distressing” that council staff had to be constantly dealing with compliance issues.

“I’m damned if I can condone a process that has shiny arses in Wellington … crippling us by time and money.

“We’ve done this plan in good faith.”

Audit NZ would review the draft plan by March.

Public consultation was set to begin on Friday, April 1.

Submissions would close on Monday, May 3, and hearings would be held on May 19 and 20.

The council would meet to adopt the plan on June 30.

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