Editorial: Established Ecofest should go it alone

Last updated 11:48 24/03/2014

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OPINION: The Nelson region's current MPs' colours are blue and red, but the province has a distinctive green tinge nonetheless.

Green Party predecessor Values had strong, deep roots in Nelson, polling booths in the region have traditionally recorded some of the highest Green Party votes, and the Nelson MP is conservation minister. Three national parks and three marine reserves keep the Nelson map green and the Nelson Environment Centre is active in schools and the community.

Showcasing all of this environmental awareness is Ecofest, the annual celebration of sustainable living has been featuring on the Nelson events calendar since 2001.

It is a joint Tasman District-Nelson City Council initiative that has been held at both the Trafalgar Centre and Founders Heritage Park. And now it appears under threat, at least in its current format.

The city council is this week considering whether or not to continue backing Ecofest, with suggestions the staff time involved could be put to better use.

One catalyst for the rethink is the closure of the Trafalgar Centre, where it would have been held in August. Tasman is waiting on Nelson's lead - and given its tightening grip on the purse-strings and reluctance to fund projects based beyond its boundaries, it is hardly likely to go it alone.

As NCC environmental programmes manager Chris Ward says, Ecofest has evolved. While it does bring together guest speakers covering a range of sustainability issues, it has developed a green "trade show" feel about it in recent years.

This has reached the point where it is questionable whether significant council staff involvement is appropriate.

The city council was in its last term starting to question whether it ought to be involved in events management. The strong and growing green trades aspect to Ecofest make it an obvious event to pull out of direct responsibility for.

Nelson has significant event management expertise - some within councils, some from outside.

The environment centre is also well established, funded by both councils and a variety of other sources, and could develop the ability to organise Ecofest as a showcase of all it stands for.

There is, however, an element of timing. It would be unfortunate - though far from disastrous - if the event were to go into recess for a year.

Ideally, Ecofest should go ahead, this year, at Founders, with, at most, very limited council staff assistance to ease a transition to a standalone operation from 2015.

The eco-economy has matured to the point that it is simply an important tributary of the main stream. Its ideals are increasingly being taught in schools and adopted by everyone from local builders to multinational corporations.

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Last year's Ecofest had more than 100 stalls and drew 4000 people. Surely that support indicates a "sustainable" funding model could be established without the need for council involvement.

- Nelson

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