Campground residents fight back

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:58 13/03/2014
Rachel Reeseā€™s office
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
DIGGING IN: Brook Valley Holiday Park resident Alistair Corner says there is strong resolve to resist closure.

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Brook Valley Holiday Park residents have formed a committee to fight the proposed closure of their campground home and will lobby at the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary open day on Sunday.

They are also gathering signatures on an anti-closure petition at various points around Nelson.

Resident Alistair Corner said the petition was gathering a lot of signatures and there was a strong resolve to fight the proposal. About 25 residents attended the meeting on Tuesday night when the committee was formed, he said.

This comes as Nelson City Council chief executive Clare Hadley has confirmed that overheads of $125,000 have been included in the camp's 2014-15 balance sheet, saying: "It is not the council's core business to be running holiday parks."

In other developments:

The council locked one of the camp's toilet and shower blocks at the beginning of the week and then reopened it on Tuesday. It has also halted weekend staffing and cut back cleaning.

Council community services chair Pete Rainey told the Nelson Mail that leasing the camp to a new operator was a possible option to keep it open.

The council is proposing to close the camp by the end of the year, displacing around 50 residents. It says they will be able to move to the Maitai Camp, which it also owns, but residents spoken to by the Nelson Mail say that is an inferior site and they do not want to live there.

The council has embarked upon a period of public consultation. It has told the residents that it plans to make a final decision in June and, if the closure goes ahead, it will "most likely" be towards the end of the year.

Under management by Tahuna Beach Camp Inc, the Brook camp was consistently profitable. Since the council took over in 2010 it has recorded growing losses, culminating in a projected 2013-14 loss of $180,000, forecast to be $177,000 in 2014-15.

Under the council the staff cost has blown out from $99,000 in 2010-11 to a projected $268,000 in 2013-14 and a budgeted $263,000 in 2014-15.

The council's latest figures project a loss of $180,000 this year and it has budgeted for a loss of $177,000 next year, on income of $259,000.

The camp, which Nelmac has been helping staff for the council over the past six weeks after the caretaker left, has had few workers. The council's figures,

provided last week after a request from the Mail, raised the eyebrows of residents and Tahuna Beach Camp board members.

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Yesterday, in a written response to further questions, Ms Hadley said the "staff costs including overheads" figures reflected both staff salaries and overheads.

"Overheads include staff support services like human resources, information technology [computers, phones, other equipment], finance and payroll support, furniture and workspace needs, professional development, ACC levies, etc."

She said overheads were a common accounting practice for most large organisations.

"Staff have costs associated with them and these costs must be reflected in the council's activity budgets. They are realised costs, they have to be accounted for properly and transparently."

In a later interview Mrs Hadley said the council had been prompted to look at the future of the camp by the resignation of the manager due to ill-health.

Shutting it to casual camping in the meantime was likely to save more money than it lost, because of the cost of having to have the camp staffed seven days "for the possible casual camper, as we go into the quiet season".

A new lease "may be an outcome if [the] council determines in the end to keep the park, and to keep it open".

"It's a proposal . . . I would certainly advise the council that I can't walk away from the truth that this is not our core competency, so if they do want to keep it they do need to find a different solution."

Her concern was around the economics of the camp and drawing that to the council's attention, and there was no correlation with the sanctuary trust's development plans, Mrs Hadley said. Work on the sanctuary's pest-proof fence is due to begin in June.

There were also issues around the building standard compliance of some of the camp dwellings.

"We have allowed it to happen, and I need to say that having opened our eyes, we cannot close them again," she said.

Mr Rainey said he was sympathetic to the residents' plight, but he didn't think the council should be in the business of running the camp.

He was hoping the submission process would bring forward "a wide range of views". Expressions of interest in taking on the camp were "certainly an aspect I'm concentrating on at the moment".

He said it was "absolutely not" a foregone conclusion that the camp would close.

"Whether somebody else takes it over, or whether it closes, remains to be seen."

The closure of the ablution block had been "a ridiculous thing to do in this situation" and he had acted quickly to ensure it reopened, Mr Rainey said.

- Nelson

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