Concern as noise consent cost soars

The Nelson City Council is to conduct an internal review of a huge blowout in the cost to gain resource consents to allow amplified sound in open spaces.

Councillors at yesterday's audit, risk and finance committee meeting sought answers over how an initial cost estimate of between $20,000 and $50,000 for the consents now looks likely to run close to $200,000 and possibly higher.

The two consents, for amplified sound at events in council parks and a limited number of special events, were granted by independent commissioners in October last year, but the council has appealed some of the conditions - notably that noise from spectators was included in the noise limits, community development manager Kath Inwood said.

A report to yesterday's meeting said the consents proved to be more complex, took longer to prepare and involved a higher level of specialist consultant time than expected.

The council applied for the consents with the aim of reducing the need for organisers of most cultural and recreational events to get event-specific resource consents. The goal was to put in place a consent covering a range of events, which included a high standard of control to minimise potential noise effects.

The council's acting executive manager of community services, Roger Ball, said management was taking matters around the cost seriously, and an internal review would be conducted of the processes and procedures around the consents application process.

"We have identified a number of shortcomings, and it's not the norm. We are doing our utmost to ensure it doesn't happen again," Mr Ball said.

To date, the cost of the consents for 2012-13 totals $143,189, made up of $95,318 in processing costs and $47,871 in applicant costs, but because an appeal has now been lodged, the final figure could be up to $180,000.

Councillor Rachel Reese questioned why a formal quote was not secured from planners, lawyers and experts involved. She suspected, by her calculations, that the total cost could be closer to $200,000.

Ms Inwood said the council had costs per hour, but had not sought a quote. "We engaged [outside experts] to prepare the application but didn't know how long the hearing would be, which is where the significant difference is."

Ms Reese was joined by the small chorus of councillors at yesterday's meeting to air their concerns, and disapproval of a plan to take money from other areas to meet the shortfall, including the reallocation of up to $75,000 of unspent budget set aside for building maintenance for the Theatre Royal and Suter Art Gallery.

Councillor Paul Matheson said that while he agreed with the council's decision to appeal the commissioners' decision - including that spectator noise could not be controlled by the council - he was concerned that extracting money set aside in the current financial year was simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.

"I am disturbed that these costs have accelerated to such an extent," Mr Matheson said.

Ms Reese was also troubled by the fact that private operators would benefit from the council's expenditure on a resource consent that would allow them to stage events at Trafalgar Park, such as last week's More FM Summer Vineyard Tour, without having to contribute to the cost of gaining the consent.

"I am not comfortable with the ratepayers of Nelson subsidising the likes of More FM, for example," she said.

Councillor Gail Collingwood said she was uneasy about agreeing to a recommendation that would bind councillors to covering the overspend by drawing on other budgets, without knowing what the final figure would be. "I feel like we have this big piece of chewing gum that could stretch forever."

She acknowledged that the matter needed to be sorted out, as concerts and events were for the "greater good", but said it was time to consider charges as a way to recoup the cost.

Councillor Ian Barker said the cost recovery should come from the users, such as event organisers and patrons.

A staff report will be prepared to go to the full council.