Northland Northern Advocate

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North events centre stoush reignites

10th December 2009


The controversial $18.5 million Northland Regional Events Centre will be fully owned by Whangarei District Council, despite ratepayers from the entire region paying for the project.

Hours after regional councillors gave the WDC a broadside  yesterday, accusing  it of meddling and putting Government funding for the project at risk, the  councils had sorted out their differences.

At its monthly meeting yesterday, the Northland Regional Council  said the stadium was  over budget and  district council interference was holding up $2.5 million of Government funding.

The  centre is being funded by $13 million from the regional council through a special recreation rate in Whangarei, Kaipara and the Far North, $3 million from the district council and the Government is giving $2.5 million to bring it up to standard to host   Rugby World Cup games. 

But, yesterday, regional councillors  said the  WDC had a secret deal to transfer part or all of the events centre  to the Northland Rugby Union after completion and  wanted to be the sole settler for the centre,  contrary to what had  been agreed. The NRC was also  concerned that the  district council, without discussions,  had asked that the Government's $2.5 million  go to an independent trust to run the centre, with the WDC as sole settler, rather than the NRC.

The basis for collecting the recreation rate was that it would be a multi-purpose facility, managed and operated by an independent trust and it would not result in an additional financial burden on ratepayers.

Regional council chief executive Ken Paterson said: "The recent developments outlined above clearly threaten all of these assurances made to the public of Northland on what is one of the  ... potentially most positive projects in the region for some time."

Regional council deputy chairman Ian Walker said it appeared Whangarei Mayor Stan Semenoff wanted  to open the  centre. "If that's the petty-mindedness we have to put up with, letting him cut the bloody ribbon ... it shouldn't be mired in self-interest and petty politics."

Mr Paterson said the NRC might  wish to halt construction until its concerns were resolved.

That was at 1.45pm. Then,  just after 5pm and after NRC  chairman Mark Farnsworth and senior managers had met Mr Semenoff and his team,  it  was all resolved.

Mr Farnsworth said the NRC would hand  the completed centre to the WDC.  "Our shares will be transferred to the WDC and we won't be a settler now that we've got the assurances (over the matters of concern)."

Mr Farnsworth said the WDC had satisfied all   concerns. There  was no secret deal. An independent trust chosen by the WDC, with NRC consultation, would run the centre. The  councils would run a joint opening ceremony.