Waning interest muddles Tahunanui decisions

The level of interest in taking over Tahunanui attractions Natureland and the Tahuna fun park is lower than expected which reflects the complexity of the task at hand, says city councillor Pete Rainey.

The council asked for expressions of interest for each, and while 16 tender documents were handed out, three came back for Natureland and one for the fun park.

Mr Rainey chairs the working party set up to look into future use of the reserve land at Tahunanui on which the two attractions are located, after it was announced several months ago the trust running Natureland was pulling out and the owners of the fun park put the business on the market.

He said the working party would meet next Tuesday to talk about the options presented, and would make recommendations to the council on possible future options by the end of November. A preferred option is due to be announced before Christmas.

Christchurch-based Orana Wildlife Trust, which has run Natureland since 2008, announced in June it was pulling out as a result of hardship suffered in the wake of the earthquakes. It was the second time in four years that Nelson City Council-owned Natureland had faced a crisis over its future.

Fun Park owners Vivienne and Tom Mexted have decided to move on after running the business for 14 years. Mr Mexted said it was time someone with new ideas took on the business, which is privately owned but operated on council land.

Throughout the time they had run the business people had shown interest in it, he said.

The council said in June it would try to find another operator for the beleaguered zoo, or find an alternative use for the site. Because it was on council reserve, use of the area had to meet requirements of the Nelson Resource Management Plan.

Nelson city Mayor and Natureland working group member Aldo Miccio said at the time that levels of interest in taking over Natureland were beyond expectation and were a positive sign it could be saved.

There has been huge public opposition to plans in the past to close Natureland. Mr Rainey hoped that among the submissions to the current process were ideas presented from some of those who did not want to see it closed.

Annual running costs range from between $400,000 to $500,000 funded by gate takings, the council and Orana Wildlife Trust.

Natureland has about 400 animals including exotic and New Zealand native animals, domestic farm animals, pocket pets, and aquarium species.

"Whether we retain Natureland or put in something new is a complicated issue. The public is very tuned into it, and that's been reflected in past reactions," Mr Rainey said.

He said finding an alternative use for the area raised other challenges. "Because it lies within beach reserve there are prescribed activities for what can happen there and it would be highly unusual for the council to deviate from that," Mr Rainey said.

He said the current and previous councils had always expressed how important Tahunanui is to Nelson, and whatever happened these had to be done right for the benefit of Tahunanui and the wider community.