Backing $3m theatre upgrade 'irresponsible'
CLAIMS that Gisborne District Council would be irresponsible to underwrite the cost of earthquake strengthening and upgrading the Lawson Field Theatre failed to sway a majority of councillors this week.
The Future Tairawhiti committee of all councillors eventually resolved on a voice vote to approve preliminary designs for the upgrade and to underwrite the project costs, despite opposition from finance chairman Brian Wilson and others.
Mr Wilson said this was another example of the council having its arm twisted up its back because of conditions imposed by the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund.
If they went for it, the council might be up to funding it from rates if it could not be covered by grants.
“As chairman of the finance and audit committee, I just cannot agree with these recommendations,” he said.
“I know that I am one of the few who will go against the recommendations but I am sorry, until I can see a clear road ahead of me of where all the money is going to come from for the capital projects we have got coming up, I just can’t commit to it.”
Shannon Dowsing agreed, saying it was a little premature in his mind to be forced on to a deadline which put the responsibility on the council.
There was an option to delay the underwriting of the project, and it would make sense to him to ensure the council could financially sustain this project.
He also believed opportunities to economise in the design phase had not been looked at.
The scope of the project could have been looked at. The council was spending just over $3 million and not necessarily achieving the best outcomes.
Rehette Stoltz said she 100 percent agreed with what Mr Wilson saying, but the Lawson Field Theatre had been closed since last year and it was a well-used facility.
“Nothing is going to be achieved by waiting. It is just going to deteriorate more and more,” she said.
“The asbestos and earthquake strengthening, all those things need to be done.”
Trustees confidentTrustees of the War Memorial Theatre Trust, which had taken over fundraising for Lawson Field, were quite confident they could raise just over $1 million.
“I urge you, we need to move forward with this. This Lawson Field Theatre is such a loved community asset.”
The $4 million the council spent on the War Memorial Theatre got the community an asset worth $9m, said Mrs Stoltz.
Graeme Thomson said nobody was saying “don’t do this or that”.
“I would not suggest gloating about the War Memorial Theatre and the library,” he said.
“Both ended up costing the council millions more than was budgeted.”
This was a huge risk they were going to take on behalf of the ratepayers. There were so many financial issues out there that going ahead without funding was “irresponsible”.
If things like the flood control scheme were not given priority, the community could be devastated in a major storm.
“I suggest we go to Eastland Community Trust, our main punters, and we have a talk with them first.”
Pat Seymour said she had been asking and asking for the project to be moved along.
“If the council officers had moved a bit faster a month ago we would have had this process a whole lot further down the track, and we would have been in a much more comfortable position.”
The council got itself in this bind by not being pro-active and moving the project along, she said.
Amber Dunn said the War Memorial Theatre Trust raised $5.5m, it could easily raise $1.1m.
“I think we should be supporting them to do it.”
The Gisborne Competitions Society would be celebrating 100 years next year, and the Lawson Field Theatre was their home.
“This community needs the theatre, let’s get on and do it.”
Andy Cranston said things came before the council on an individual basis which made it complicated. The council needed to prioritise its projects.
At some stage it was going to have to drop a couple off to actually get things done. It had to decide which should get the green light.
The council had to talk to the community before loading it up with unsustainable debts, said Mr Cranston.
Malcolm Maclean said the council was looking at spending nearly $4 million on a building that was only occupied 50 percent of the time. Where would it get the funding to keep it going?