Wellington Eco-City plan dumped

Last updated 08:21 14/06/2012
ZEALANDIA: Falling vistor numbers may force the santuary to close.
Zealandia had asked for $700,000 in funding each year.

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A move to unite four Wellington destinations has been dumped.

Wellington City Council's strategy and policy committee yesterday voted unanimously to ditch a proposal that would have united Zealandia, the Zoo, the Botanic Garden and Otari-Wilton's Bush into an Eco-City organisation.

But the financially stretched Zealandia will now work in partnership with the council.

Councillors are finalising their long-term plan, and the committee's recommendations will be considered by the full council this month.

In the first major decision since the council meeting started on Tuesday, councillors agreed with public feedback that the Eco-City model was not the right fit for the four organisations.

It had been suggested as a solution to concerns about the financial sustainability of the Karori sanctuary.

Instead, councillors voted in favour of a "partnership model" where the council would provide back office support and an interim board would be appointed while a full governance review was carried out.

Zealandia had asked for $700,000 in funding each year. Next year it would receive $350,000 after the governance structured was decided, and $700,000 each year after.

The council also funds $650,000 a year in interest on a $10.4 million loan to the sanctuary. On Tuesday, council business improvement manager Mike Scott told councillors Zealandia was "moving from childhood to adolescence".

"We need to be there as a guiding hand to allow that transition in a much more measured way."

During debate yesterday, councillors said the new model would enable the sanctuary to continue its ecological work, while reaching a viable financial position.

Stephanie Cook said it was important not to let financial concerns about Zealandia overshadow its conservation achievements.

"I can't put a price on the joy of seeing a flock of kaka flying across the sky when I'm walking my dog."

Ray Ahipene-Mercer agreed, and said the new arrangement would ensure the council could address problems as they arose.

"We will no longer be waiting to hear about problems, we will be identifying them and acting on them straight away."

Zealandia had slammed the Eco-City proposal, saying that the sanctuary had struggled to meet overly optimistic visitor numbers, but was performing well.

Chairwoman Catherine Isaac welcomed yesterday's decision.

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The long-term plan debate will continue today.

- The Dominion Post

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