Murchison pub gets cash for visitor hub

FUNDING BOOST: Murchison's Commercial Hotel and Cafe will receive $12,000 to set up a visitor information centre.
FUNDING BOOST: Murchison's Commercial Hotel and Cafe will receive $12,000 to set up a visitor information centre.

The Tasman District Council's decision to give $12,000 to Murchison's Commercial Hotel and Cafe to set up a visitor information centre has upset some in the community.

It will replace the Nelson Tasman Tourism-funded centre that closed in June. NTT is funded through the region's councils and the centre was running at a $60,000-a-year loss. The council has signalled it does not want to continue funding tourism.

Its decision to now fund a private operator has disappointed some in the community who have been trying for nearly two years to secure a future for the independent visitor centre.

Murchison and Districts Community Council chairman Simon Blakemore had planned to present a proposal to the Nelson City Council's governance committee meeting last week, but learned of the TDC's decision on Friday.

The Murchison Community Resource Centre (CRC) wanted a standalone information centre and had a proposal to run it for $35,000 using $12,000 from the TDC, a contribution from the NCC and had $12,000 in pledges from businesses.

Blakemore said 22 per cent of the bookings at the Murchison Visitor Centre had been for Nelson City. Murchison was the southern gateway to the north where visitors could decide to go straight to the Picton ferry or travel via Nelson.

They had planned to sell the benefits to the city council of helping to fund the Murchison centre but those hopes had been dashed.

The TDC had also earlier turned down a community proposal to move the library in with the visitor information centre.

Blakemore said CRC now wanted to find a use for the closed centre just in case the Commercial Hotel proposal failed.

"Personally I'm pleased something is going to still happen but I believe a standalone centre is the best option because you have no conflict of interest and they had really good staff."

Four staff - two fulltime and two part-time - lost their jobs when the centre closed.

He questioned why the council should give $12,000 to a private business to set up and what would happen if it failed.

The contract with Commercial Hotel owner Sylvia van der Oest has not yet been signed. She was unavailable for comment as she is on holiday overseas.

Tasman District Council chief executive Lindsay Mckenzie said any conflicts of interest were assessed as at the lower end of the scale. What happened if it failed depended on what the council put into the contract.

The $12,000 would be a one-off capital grant. "After the initial grant, they have said they can make a go of it. If not then the $12,000 capital investment is sunk."

Tasman district councillor Stuart Bryant, who represents the Lakes-Murchison ward, said the one-off grant meant the proposal did not rely on any ongoing ratepayer funding.

He likened the council payment to a private business as the same as its payments to other contractors.

The $12,000 was for computer equipment, wi-fi and TV for promoting the region, he said.

It was one of four proposals the council considered, the other two also from private operators.

The Commercial Hotel proposal was accepted because of its location on the main road, its level of service in opening hours seven days a week and it did not require ongoing council funding, Bryant said.

The Nelson Mail