It has become increasingly fashionable to question and challenge projects aimed at enhancing our region. Other than when the intention is simply to malign and denigrate, that is as it should be.
Public expenditure, whether on sculptures, zoos, nature reserves, arts festivals or sports fields, needs to be justifiable and to fall within the framework of clearly understood policy and plans, both at national and local council level. Those making the decisions to spend "our" money need to be accountable, and legislation sets thresholds for consultation over significant council-level spending.
It is not always easy to get objective analysis of significant projects. Economic assessments and cost-profit projections can tend to be little more than best-guesswork.
Those lobbying for particular schemes will often choose the figures that best suit their cause, while glossing over the more negative points raised. Opponents can at times appear to make up their facts in order to seek to dampen the hype around the latest big-ticket item requiring funding from taxes or rates.
Yesterday's announcement, then, of a $500,000 funding boost for Nelson's Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust from the Lotteries Grants Board is significant for several reasons.
First there's the cash itself. The cool half-a-million grant pushes the trust past the halfway point in meeting its $4.7m target. This is the budget set to complete a 14km pest-proof fence, pest eradication and initial operating and overhead costs for the 700-hectare nature recovery project.
The trust, to its credit, is committed to completing the fence without going into debt - a key factor, it says, to ensure the project's ongoing viability. But it's not only about the money.
Yesterday's grant announcement is almost as important for the huge boost in credibility it brings to the project, as the trust continues the search for further sponsors and supporters.
The grant confirms the sanctuary's national significance, relevance and approach, in the face of some questions raised recently about these issues. The grant is said to be the largest in a decade, underlying the strength of the project's application.
Such grants are not always easy to come by. The competition is fierce, the criteria exhaustive and the applications meticulously checked. No wonder the trust is talking up the grant, as it could not receive a more compelling endorsement.
The decision will give confidence to the two local councils which have already backed the sanctuary by allocating funding in their annual plans, subject to trust fundraising targets being met. It should also offer reassurance to those in the community who have been questioning various aspects of the project, from its financial viability to the sense of building such a lengthy pest-free fence in challenging "goat country".
The grant is no iron-clad guarantee of success, but it should be enough to steer the armchair commentators in a more positive direction. Considering that the sanctuary stacks up so well on a national level, a greater show of local pride in what is clearly a nationally significant environmental project would not be a bad thing.
- © Fairfax NZ News