Cromwell Community Board setting itself up to 'fail - and fail badly' over memorial hall | chairman

Cromwell Community Board Chairman Neil Gillespie and board members Nigel McKinklay and Anna Harrison vote against a ...
Jo McKenzie-McLean

Cromwell Community Board Chairman Neil Gillespie and board members Nigel McKinklay and Anna Harrison vote against a notice of motion to suspend all work on the Cromwell Memorial Hall refurbishment while the board commissions a report to establish the cost of three new build options for the hall. The notice of motion was put forward by board member Robin Dicey and supported by board members Shirley Calvert, Werner Murray and Annabel Blaikie. Photo: Jo McKenzie-McLean

Progress to refurbish Cromwell's memorial hall has been suspended while council staff investigate whether the board has "mucked up" by rejecting a previous resolution to proceed with work.

Talks around the community board table stretched over three hours on Tuesday afternoon while board members debated the merits for and against a notice of motion put forward by board member Robin Dicey for the council to commission a report to establish the cost of three new build options for the hall.

The board voted 4-3 in favour of commissioning the report with Annabel Blaikie, Werner Murray and councillor Shirley Calvert supporting the motion, while board chair and deputy mayor Neil Gillespie, councillor Nigel McKinlay and board member Anna Harrison voting against the motion.

In February, Gillespie used his casting vote to progress the redevelopment of the hall after Dicey introduced an "Option 3" into the mix, involving a complete rebuild. At Tuesday's meeting Gillespie said the resolution to back Dicey was in contrary to a resolution already made by the board.

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"One of the opportunities I had as chairman was to rule on that before this discussion took place but I deliberately chose not to do that as I didn't think it was fair to take away the opportunity and I didn't know for sure that this resolution was going to be made."

Standing orders enabled him as chairman to deem the resolution be "out of order" and not proceed with it, he said.

Before further action could be taken, the chief executive was required to prepare a report to confirm the board had a "procedural issue" with the resolution passed, he said, 

"I don't want to put us in a situation where anyone else can challenge us...We don't need anyone coming to us saying, 'hey, you have mucked up here'." 

The report would be done with "all possible haste" and if necessary he would call a special meeting.

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Earlier in the meeting, Gillespie said the notice of motion was a "first" and he had a "major problem" with where the motion took the board.

"I think we are setting ourselves up to fail and fail badly. We have no idea of cost, how long it is going to take and that to me if you are missing those two thing - it's essential to the decision making process - I don't think it is good governance. I don't think it is good governance to turn around and now reject the extensive community consultation that has been undertaken to get us the final proposal and design plan."

Dicey had argued the motion was "exactly the right thing to do".

"I do believe we owe it to them (ratepayers) to do the very best we can."

Dicey had put the motion forward because he was concerned about the cost of the refurbishment; a new build was unlikely to incur cost over-runs; by refurbishing opportunities for the site would be lost - including a lake view; a new build would be better suited to a growing town.

At least one design and build company, Thompson Construction and Engineering had provided a cost estimate of a rebuild at $4.1 million. Auckland-based company Brosnan Construction had indicated an interest in doing a new build for $4.3 million.

Gillespie said nothing had come out since that had given him any "inkling" there was a need to make changes "whatsoever".

"We know this refurbishment is all but a rebuild but we know this is what the community want..I can't see anything that is going to say costs are going to be any different. There is no certainty with this motion we are going to be any better off at all. I think we have to be very mindful of that."

Community-minded people had sent a signal "quite clearly" in the form of a petition and if the board adopted the motion it would be bad governance, and the board would frustrate themselves, council staff and the community further.

"I think it would be totally unhelpful. To vote for it would be simply wrong."

McKinlay said if the motion was adopted it would result in the board members sitting around the table for "another three or four months" with very little more knowledge than what they had already.

"If we then decide we have an appetite for a new build we then have to go through the whole process to design a tender have to factor in one off costs for the council to prepare the tender documents in order of $200,000, go through a consultation process, have a time delay of nine, 12 or 18 months...I can estimate a $500,000 of an unavoidable cost increase."

The board was "too far down the track", he said.

"I think we have a refurbishment plan that has listened to the community, addressing their needs, it addresses the need of user groups. We have a locked in price and can start building straight away. The theoretical idea you can save money by starting again, I think you will find that the cost savings being suggested will disappear like the summer snow."

Blaikie said the board had a responsibility to spend the community's money responsibly and with the growth in the town it was more important to make the right decision so there was a building future generations would use in its entirety.

Harrison agreed they had a responsibility with how they spent the community's money, make "sound decisions" and make sure they ended up with a building that was "fit for purpose".

"I am sure that spending another significant amount of time on something is going to get us nowhere different from where we are currently at, and we will have spent significantly more of the community's money getting these reports completed and taking it to more consultation and we may have it thrown back in our faces.

"I don't necessarily see there is any need to stall any further with the amount of time it's taken and the amount of options that have been considered by the previous board."

Calvert said from the outset she had been uncomfortable with the design rebuild. 

"In my view, I have not changed my stance."

Murray declined to make comment.

Former community board member Helen Hucklebridge, who spoke at the meeting, said the motion made a "mockery of the whole local body process".

"After a motion has been approved by the previous community board and then ratified by the new board - even though it was a decision that required the chairman's casting vote - it is a decision that all the board members need to accept and so allow the project to move forward.

"Please don't think in my 15 years as a board member that I agreed with every decision that was made - believe me I didn't - but after you have expressed your opinion, stated your case and voted, as a responsible elected member you have to move forward and not try to find ways to prevent the project from proceeding."

Almost 900 residents signed a petition asking the board listen to their wishes and let the upgrade of the memorial hall continue.

"Extensive public consultation did take place concerning the currently approved plans and that consultation resulted in a huge input before the final plans were presented to the community and before the final detailed drawings were commissioned. You cannot now, suddenly produce new and different plans Mr Dicey."

Dicey had produced alternative plans and had variations and alterations that would require further and lengthly consultation, she said.

The notice of motion suggested to the public the community board appeared to be unable to work together as a team and the figures quoted put a "false slant on the feasibility of the refurbishment project", she said.

"Anyone can provide an estimate to come in, at a figure below a firm quote but then when it comes to stating the specifics of the insulation or the acoustics the difference can easily total tens of thousands of dollars and unfortunately people are not receiving that type of information."

 - Stuff


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