Mayor to pay own way to open sister city garden

TARYN UTIGER
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2014

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Mayor Andrew Judd will fly to Kunming in August to officially open a garden in New Plymouth's Chinese sister city.

He will be one of four New Plymouth District Council representatives who will open the $90,000 garden, donated to Kunming by the council.

Accompanying Judd will be councillor Howie Tamati, Puke kura Park curator Chris Connolly and council's coordinator of international relations, Julie Straka.

Judd will pay his own costs for the trip, but the council will still pay between $12,000 and $14,000 for the other three travellers.

That money will come from council's existing international relations budget of $31,000.

"I'm paying for myself because of the environment we are in," Judd said.

"We've just received an unwanted pay rise and we are trying to keep rates down."

While campaigning to be elected mayor of New Plymouth Judd pledged to "put an end to this nonsense", with reference to the garden gifted to Kunming.

In January this year he had a change of heart and told the Taranaki Daily News he would not pull the pin on the ties with Kunming.

Yesterday he said the council had a "moral obligation" to continue with the relationship.

Judd said the invitation to officially open the garden had been accepted before he became mayor.

"And I want our city to live up to its word."

However, after announcing the trip to China yesterday Judd said it would be the first and the last sister city visit using public funds during his term as mayor.

"No more overseas trips. That's it. It all stops."

Judd said that after the garden was opened, he would move to shift the focus of sister city relationships and place greater emphasis on the generation of real economic benefits.

He said he wanted to market Taranaki as the oil and gas capital of New Zealand and build business relationships with other oil districts.

"If we are going to have sister cities, then we should make them strategic," he said.

"I'd like to see us actually benefit from our sister cities."

Judd and the other three representatives will leave New Plymouth on August 17 and return on August 21.

Councillor Tamati and council staff member Straka were members of the last official council delegation to Kunming in 2006.

The controversial garden includes kauri, pohutukawa and kowhai trees, as well as a stone sculpture called Te Ngaru, carved by Taranaki artist Barry Te Whau.

The New Zealand Garden complements the Kunming Garden in New Plymouth's Pukekura Park, which was a gift from the sister city.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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