Councillors backed into a corner

Today is likely to be a day like no other - a watershed built from shiny, sculpted stainless steel.

In October, as thousands of ratepayers consider their local body election forms, many will think back on this date and the actions of the incumbent elected representatives, a large number of whom will be seeking the voters' tick of approval for another term.

That public jury will strive to remember how their perceived heroes and villains voted on the future of the Len Lye Centre: were those representatives dazzled by the brilliant, seductive light dancing off the steel edifice or enlightened by a bold, searching light of scrutiny and clarity?

This media organisation has, on several occasions, offered strong support for the Len Lye Centre. In numerous editorials we have backed the New Plymouth District Council and its plans for a world- class multimillion-dollar facility largely funded by external sources.

But the mess of the last day has sullied that stainless steel and severely undermined confidence and trust in what remains a worthwhile project.

As a consequence of what was revealed yesterday, councillors have been backed into a corner: support the Len Lye construction and ratepayers will be forced to fork out even more; vote against it and we must pay back money already spent on the project. And the deadline? Today. Because the tender agreement runs out on Sunday. After that, all bets will be off.

Councillors, and the thousands of people they represent, are likely to be livid at being placed in such a difficult position. Especially given what so many had suspected for so long - that despite official protestations to the contrary, the ambitious centre could not be constructed for $10 million.

And revelations of budget blowouts will give rise to ghosts of previous overruns and projects pushed through despite serious public concerns and suspicions.

The late Graeme Sanger believed the public was spun a beautiful tale of opportunity and riches to gain support for vesting New Plymouth's Rugby Park to the NPDC and the subsequent construction of Yarrow Stadium. For those at the heart of the action and debate, it appeared the end justified the means.

And the budget blowout of Oakura's sewerage scheme remains a nagging, chilly recent memory.

This latest cost announcement raises fears that we have again been serenaded sweetly by bureaucracy's golden harp; sold a silky purse, only to realise later that we have been lumbered with a sow's ear.

Questions remain about how much our councillors knew about this latest over- run and whether they were presented with the bad news at the earliest opportunity. Because despite this contentious project's difficult 10-year gestation, we are now looking at the prospect of a messy, hurried birth and a large number of disgruntled parents left holding an ugly, unwanted baby.

Who's going to claim it? The answer will be revealed today but the sequel will arrive just under nine months from now.

Taranaki Daily News