Mixed messages on fate of halls

'Appalling campaign of misinformation'

ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 07/06/2014
 Alisa Hogan and Lindsay Ferguson
CHEVY AND A BEVVY: Alisa Hogan and Lindsay Ferguson share a cup of tea outside Lower Hutt’s civic halls, with a 1956 Chevrolet Belair sedan behind them.

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Most Lower Hutt residents want to demolish their city's historic halls, a council survey has revealed, but annual plan submissions tell a different story.

Hutt City Council commissioned an independent poll of 400 residents on the future of its 1950s town and horticultural halls in Laings Rd.

More than half of respondents - 55 per cent - supported option 3E+, to knock down both earthquake-prone halls and build a convention centre.

Option 3F, which would retain the town hall in the convention centre design, was supported by 35 per cent of residents.

Opinion was similar across Lower Hutt's wards, although Petone and Eastbourne residents were more in favour of saving the town hall.

Heart of the Hutt lobby group, which would like to save both halls, said the ratios were reversed in submissions to the council's draft annual plan, with 59 per cent choosing option 3F.

"That creates a problem for the council, because they've got to accommodate opposite views," spokesman Mark Leicester said.

The group held a 1950s-themed protest yesterday, one of its last opportunities to sway councillors' opinions towards 3F before a decision is made on Wednesday.

Across the road from the protest were the soon-to-be-empty Briscoes and Rebel Sport shops that replaced a red brick Methodist church in 2002. Such short-sighted planning was exactly what Heart of the Hutt was trying to stop, Leicester said. "Everybody regrets it."

Deputy mayor David Bassett chaired a working group on the halls' fate, and said a council-run poll also found 3F was the favoured option.

Polls were just one source that would inform his decision on Wednesday, however - cost, utility, and the opinion of Heritage New Zealand would also play a part.

Councillor Max Shierlaw said the independent poll that favoured 3E+ was more reliable than annual plan submissions, which were dominated and manipulated by Heart of the Hutt.

The group mischaracterised the redevelopment as a convention centre, when it was just as much a community hub, Shierlaw said.

"They orchestrated an appalling campaign of misinformation."

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- The Dominion Post

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