Function centre curfew debated

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 07:54 10/06/2014

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Attempts to reach a compromise between the historic Caccia Birch function centre and its Hokowhitu neighbours over late night closing have been stalled by complex planning processes.

The Caccia Birch Trust Board wants the Palmerston North venue to be able to stay open until midnight 50 times a year to attract more bookings and ensure its financial future.

But neighbours are unanimously opposed to the extension, and want to stay with 10.30pm finishes and vacating the premises by 11pm.

Palmerston North City Council planner David Murphy has recommended the controls stay in place in a draft proposed change to the District Plan that was presented to the city council's planning and policy committee yesterday.

Trustee Bruce Barry said the committed, hard-working professional people running Caccia Birch were becoming increasingly frustrated by the curfew.

"We are hamstrung by unreasonable restrictions, expected to compete on an uneven playing field."

The current situation suited a few "self-interested neighbours", he said, but made it impossible for the board to meet social expectations about the hours a venue should be available, and the council's expectations about the ratepayer-subsidised facility's performance.

"The council can no longer have it both ways. Does it want a museum or a business enterprise?"

Murphy said two historic planning decisions had upheld the neighbours' view on closing times, and nothing in the physical environment had changed since the last mediated decision in 1997 that would justify him recommending a change now.

Councillors, however, were keen to propose a compromise.

Cr Ross Linklater said Caccia Birch should be allowed to open until midnight 24 times a year.

He said the council's options were either to increase its $66,000 a year subsidy, or enable it to stay open longer more often so it could compete.

"At the moment we are penalising them for the sake of an extra hour."

Recently married councillor Aleisha Rutherford agreed something had to change.

Fer her own wedding she had considered following the pattern of many others, by starting with a ceremony at Caccia Birch, followed by guests making their way across the lagoon to continue the party later at The Chalet. However she eventually picked Ashhurst Domain as the venue.

But Mayor Jono Naylor and Cr Chris Teo-Sherrell said the appropriate action was to approve the draft proposed plan change for public consultation, and allow independent commissioners to weigh up the evidence.

Murphy said if the council wanted to consult on a recommendation that was different from what its staff experts proposed, that would have to be backed up by evidence presented in a formal report. That could between $15,000 and $20,000.

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* An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Rutherfords had held their wedding at Caccia Birch.

- Manawatu Standard

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