Ratepayers again asked to prop up Zealandia

KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012

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Zealandia is again seeking money from Wellington ratepayers.

And the request won't be a one-off, with the interim board chairman admitting the sanctuary is unlikely to achieve sustainability any time soon.

"Any suggestion that it's going to be self-sustaining in the very near future, that would be misinformed. It needs council support," Kevin Brady said yesterday.

A new review of the struggling Karori Sanctuary Trust has found the organisation needs $2.1 million from Wellington City Council over the next three years - $350,000 more than the council allocated it earlier this year.

The council opted for a smaller contribution after questioning the robustness of the financial plan. It voted to enhance the council's partnership and appointed an interim board to review the organisation.

Those findings have been released this week and say the sanctuary should be given the extra funding, warning that without it Zealandia would have no cash reserves at the end of that period.

Moves to improve the position of the sanctuary came after its new $16 million visitor centre failed to draw projected crowds, hitting the organisation in the pocket.

Councillors will consider the funding request at the strategy and policy committee meeting tomorrow, but at a briefing yesterday Mr Brady said it was necessary to secure the sanctuary's future.

As a conservation project Zealandia was extremely successful, but people were unwilling to invest in an uncertainty, he said.

"You're not going to get people coming in and sponsoring an organisation unless it's got longevity."

The funding would allow the organisation to refocus and investigate further funding streams and partnerships, without depleting its cash reserves.

Mr Brady also admitted the funding requests would not stop in three years, and the organisation would need ongoing support.

"I don't believe it was ever going to be self-funding . . . Is council going to be there as a long-term partner? I believe, yes."

Council officers recommended the extra funding be approved, stating in a report that without it the trust would have no cash reserves within three years.

"The additional funding will give Zealandia a higher level of financial security and will enable [the trust] to concentrate on implementing strategies for improvement."

But some councillors still expressed doubts, with Jo Coughlan saying the money would simply tide the sanctuary over.

"I don't hear anything new in what you've said."

When asked if the council could find the unbudgeted money, council chief executive Garry Poole said they would have to.

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The review also recommended a strengthened governance structure, with a five-member board with two appointed from the Guardians of the Karori Sanctuary and two from council. Strengthened relationships with other stakeholders, including Victoria University, were also a key recommendation.

Governance portfolio leader and university chancellor Ian McKinnon was not surprised that Zealandia would need ongoing funding, but said it was good to have a review showing a sustainable way forward and other partnerships being explored.

"The challenge for the city is to make sure the organisation operates as efficiently and effectively as it can."

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said she was pleased the university partnership was being strengthened, and that the figures were realistic.

"Zealandia is such an authentic New Zealand experience . . . council has a role to provide support for initiatives that are world leading and help put Wellington on the map."

- The Dominion Post

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