Len Lye questions

GORDON BROWN
Last updated 07:53 28/09/2012
lye stand
CAMERON BURNELL
Architect Andrew Patterson and New Plymouth Distric Council CEO Barbara McKerrow with the design for the new Len Lye Centre.

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OPINION: Len Lye lives.

OK, we all know the world-famous in New Plymouth kinetic artist is actually dead and has been for some time, but his name lives on forever in these parts.

The late Lenny wanted us to posthumously be the centre of his universe and we are poised to be just that.

When the idea of a dedicated Len Lye Centre was first mooted there was immediate support for it from the highest quarter - the senior management ranks of the New Plymouth District Council. Before an elected member had even heard of it, documents were prepared and distributed around the debating table for them to consider.

One was an impressive document on the centre itself: Why we needed it and how it would be funded by external sources. The other was a Berl economic impact report and the predictions were that riches aplenty would be heading our way from the surge of Lenny devotees and tourists.

From that moment only the naive would believe the centre would not go ahead. Subsequently, a motion that the centre would only be built once its $10 million capital cost was raised externally and in place appeared to offer some safeguards and it did - to a point.

The rules have been technically bent here and there in the last couple of years to allow some premature spending of council money to get things rolling, but, as always, that would be effectively paid back later.

Now that the $10m has been raised, sorry, confirmed, everything is all go. Councillors got a briefing on this exciting news earlier this week, followed by the proper media, print and radio. However, in the spirit of appeasing some of those pesky columnists who occasionally act as an irritant to the council, I, along with fellow Taranaki Daily News columnist Gordon Burnside and Morris West from the North Taranaki Midweek, were invited to a briefing at the Govett- Brewster Art Gallery. It was a thoughtful move. Gallery director Rhana Devenport and Len Lye Working Party chairman Cr Lance Girling-Butcher assured us we could ask any question we liked and during the next hour, we did. But instead of being reassured all was well, some reservations, especially about the process, remain unresolved. By now you have probably worked out that I'm not a fan of the centre, but it's mainly been about the process, and the refusal to consider door charges.

So here, dear readers, are some of those reservations.

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The money:

The council says in its media release: "The New Plymouth District Council has succeeded in securing the $10 million required to build a world centre for the works of celebrated New Zealand artist Len Lye."

Actually, the $10m has not been raised - $8.7m has been, with $1.3m underwritten by the TSB Community Trust. That is technically in breach of the original binding motion on the council books, I suggest. It may be a small point, but once again, it is bending the rules, surely?

Both Ms Devenport and Cr Girling- Butcher were happy, however. The spirit of the motion had been observed and the important thing was there would not be any cost to ratepayers, and it was likely more than $10m would be raised.

The annual running costs: The council says that, in 2006, the annual running costs were estimated at $680,000, however that has decreased to $362,000 per year with the decision to amalgamate the Len Lye Centre and the Govett- Brewster Art Gallery.

However, one of the issues in the past was that the budgeted costs presented to the public were actually estimated net costs, not the gross costs. That left the impression the public was being given selective costs, so could the two confirm that had not been done again? If net, how much is budgeted to be raised and from what sources?

Cr Girling-Butcher acknowledged it was a net figure. "There is a certain amount we anticipate we will earn through sponsorship, the shop, the education contribution and we will be seeking sponsorship of some exhibitions. That $360,000 is really a guess, isn't it Rhana? An educated one."

Ms Devenport said it was made up of a very small number of staff - "three new positions" - and the rest of the costs were for running exhibitions.

How to identify the actual costs: "[The council] Need to have a tender process that will allow all four components [of work that needs to be done at construction stage] to be priced at once. Components are Len Lye Centre, deferred renewals, earthquake strengthening and non- compliant building works."

This is where it gets tricky, or - perhaps to the suspicious - reveals the true genius of the council management. The revised plans showed the cost for all four components would be well above $10m, meaning that ratepayers will now have no way of knowing whether the original Len Lye cost has been exceeded.

It makes sense, we are told, to do the earthquake remedial work (which is far bigger than first thought) for Govett- Brewster at the same time. It also makes sense for the other work to be done. Ms Devenport confirmed tenders will bid to do all four jobs as one package. For council watchers, it will be near- impossible to verify the construction costs of the actual centre as a stand-alone project.

The budget for the deferred renewals, for example, is $2.65m alone. The earthquake strengthening work is impossible to budget at this stage.

By the way, Ms Devenport said that the much-touted Berl report is no longer used - "although we still stand by it."

Len would certainly have approved of so much creativity going into the creation of a centre bearing his name.

- Taranaki Daily News

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