Decision to close centre stuns town

HELEN MURDOCH AND CHARLOTTE SQUIRE
Last updated 12:58 13/06/2014
Titanfall
LOSING BATTLE: Murchison residents, from left, Daryl Ealand Simon Blakemore, Sylvia van der Oest, Rex Barrick, Princess Hart, and Karen Steadman failed in their bid to save the town's i-Site.

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It's a black day for Murchison tourism operators.

The rural town's Visitor Information Centre closes today after a last-ditch appeal by the Murchison Community Resource Centre for $35,000 to run the information centre for a year from September was declined by Tasman District councillors last week.

Instead the community will have access to a one-off grant of $12,000 which can be used to support a future information facility.

Farmer and Murchison and Districts Community Council chairman Simon Blakemore said the council had done a complete about-turn from indicating it would not fund Nelson Tasman Tourism and instead support regional tourism. "This has killed us."

Councillors were more concerned about a $35,000 debt than the town's wellbeing. "They cannot see the wood for the trees. We are just devastated."

The Golden Bay Promotions Association has taken over the Golden Bay information centre, turning it into a more "Golden Bay-centric" model, but they now need more members to support it.

Life member of Golden Bay Promotions and Tasman district councillor Paul Sangster said they needed more business owners to buy advertising space at the centre.

He said Nelson Tasman Tourism had given them $30,000 this year, while next year they were indicating they would not fund the information centre at all.

"I feel that would be wrong. They're missing the total point of the information centre." He said the centre was a service not a business.

In Murchison, the Waller St centre was run by volunteers until Nelson Tasman Tourism took it over in 2008. Last April it announced that it would close the Murchison, Golden Bay and Motueka i-Sites, which were running at an annual loss of about $60,000 each in order to focus on "destination marketing", for the whole region.

In late February the council agreed to fund four visitor centres, including $12,000 for Murchison (a drop in funding of $38,000 a year) in the 2014/15 financial year. At the time the council asked the centres to provide concepts on possible ways forward. Around 23,000 people have used the Murchison centre annually in the past.

Tasman district's mayor Richard Kempthorne said the council had told all the centres' groups late last year that it would not fund information centres long-term and to look at other methods.

Kempthorne said the $12,000 grant would be given to the community once it devised, with the council's help, an agreed future tourism model.

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The council had not changed its stance on the NTT which it would fund to next July while a new regional destination marketing model is devised, he said.

Murchison artists Rex Barrick and Princess Hart said the council's reduced funding was "too little, too late".

Barrick said the community was incredibly disappointed with the council's decision, which offered Murchison no alternatives.

"Sure the centre has operated at a loss - but how do you measure the value of tourism to a town," he said.

Murchison Motor Home Park owner and real estate agent Karen Steadman said the council's decision was irresponsible. Any drop in tourism would cost jobs and there was no alternative work in the town, she said.

- The Nelson Mail

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