Womad could be lost - Duynhoven

Womad could be lost unless the council can prove the festival is in the public good.
Womad could be lost unless the council can prove the festival is in the public good.

New Plymouth's wildly successful annual Womad festival could be given the boot unless the council can prove the three-day knees-up is in the public good.

New rules announced by the Government on Monday will force the country's's 78 councils to concentrate on infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost.

Local Government Minister Nick Smith said that, under the changes, councils should not try to replicate services provided by central government or the private sector. This would appear to leave little room for supporting festivals such as Womad, which the New Plymouth District Council helps fund through grants to the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust.

The annual three-day event at the Bowl of Brooklands is attended by thousands of local people and visitors, but New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven was unsure if the council could continue to support it under the new rules.

"Would Womad be killed off if this went ahead? It may well be. The Rugby World Cup, other events, housing for the elderly. There are some people who don't see these as a core service," Mr Duynhoven said.

Core service or not, Dr Smith yesterday moved to reassure councils the key test for spending ratepayer money was whether it was for the "public good".

Mr Duynhoven said what public good meant would have to be clarified.

"There is concern that councils are not just about rubbish and rates. We have to lead," he said.

The mayor also expressed concern at a change that would appear to limit expenditure growth to the rate of inflation.

The council had already pared down the budget for the coming 10 years to get an annual average rates increase of of 5.5 per cent, he said.

"To get it from 5.5 per cent to 3 per cent is going to be a really big ask on top of what we have already cut."

South Taranaki District Council chief executive Craig Stevenson said such spending restrictions would limit council's ability to provide new infrastructure.

"Some councils may find themselves severely constrained," he said. "We still have some big projects to do but we have broken the back on the capital expenditure in the last five years. We have borrowed the money, budgeted for that in our long term plans so it will affect us less than some."

Those investments have included water treatment and wastewater projects and The Hub multisport venue.

Of more concern was the future of such national projects as the Mayoral Taskforce for Jobs which aims to reduce youth unemployment to zero, but might not fit in with the directive to concentrate on core services.

"I would like to see what happens with things like that," Mr Stevenson said. "That has very good outcomes for the community.

"If that is something Dr Smith would like to see us exiting right now, who would take over?" he asked.

Stratford myor Neil Volzke said he supported the direction Dr Smith was taking councils in, but restricting spending increases was effectively ensuring there would be changes to level of service and some services withdrawn.

The changes will also make it easier for councils to amalgamate by giving the community more power to force the consideration of local authority mergers.

Taranaki Regional Council chief executive Basil Chamberlain yesterday said the council had not had time to consider the Government's proposals.

"Any substantive response that the council makes will follow careful analysis and deliberation," he said.

Taranaki Daily News