After years of fierce debate the New Plymouth District Council has decided it will charge an entry fee for the Len Lye Centre and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.
While exactly how much is to be charged and who has to pay has yet to be nailed down, mayor Andrew Judd said the decision was significant.
"This is the first time we have passed any admission fees," he said.
And it was not a unanimous decision. Eight councillors voted in favour of the admission charges last night, but seven were against it.
The decision came as the council settled on a 2.15 per cent rate rise for the next financial year.
Former Len Lye committee chairman Lance Girling-Butcher slammed the council decision and said the idea had the potential to be a disaster.
He said Lye himself would be devastated if he knew an organisation was charging people to see his work.
"I have fought desperately to get them to not charge entry fees, and I will be deeply disturbed if they charge students or the people of New Plymouth.
"This is also not what people donated their money for," he said, referring to the fundraising required to finance the centre.
Judd said the council had not yet decided if ratepayers would have to pay or if it would only be out of town visitors.
This would be decided once gallery director Simon Rees submitted a business plan to the council in November, he said.
The issue has regularly divided both the council and the community, with supporters saying entry fees were fair enough and opponents saying they would stop people going to the art galleries.
At last night's annual plan deliberations councillor John McLeod proposed the council introduce the admission charges.
"If this place is all it is cracked up to be then in the future we should have them screaming up to get in the door," he said.
"We live in a user-pays world and our people have asked for this."
Councillor Gordon Brown was quick to support McLeod in his proposal.
"This is a defining debate of this council for this term," he said.
"Let's send a message to the community that the rules around here have changed."
Brown said the ratepayers of the district would rejoice at the news of admission charges, as they had waited for years for the council to put them in place.
"It's not anti-art," he said.
The charges would be in place by the time the complex opened in mid-2015.
Councillors Keith Allum, Shaun Biesiek, Gordon Brown, Murray Chong, Grant Coward, Len Houwers, John McLeod and mayor Andrew Judd voted for the introduction of admission fees.
Councillors Richard Handley, Colin Johnston, Richard Jordan, Craig McFarlane, Marie Pearce, Howie Tamati and deputy mayor Heather Dodunski voted against the proposal.
- Taranaki Daily News
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