Council in dark on park closure

Park decision upsets councillors and the public

BLAIR ENSOR
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2013
campsite
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ

WARM AS: The heater was turned up a notch inside Malcolm Farrell’s caravan at South Brighton Holiday Park yesterday morning as snow and sleet lashed Christchurch.

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Christchurch City Council staff knew closing the South Brighton Holiday Park would probably cause an uproar but went ahead with it anyway.

The decision caught the attention of even the Human Rights Commissioner, who wrote to Mayor Bob Parker and council chief executive Tony Marryatt expressing concern.

It also upset councillors, community board members and the public, who had both been kept in the dark nte and the decision was eventually overturned.

Mayoral candidate Lianne Dalziel and campground residents believe the closure highlighted a lack of communication between council staff and councillors that needs to change. 

Parker admits that it was an embarrassing incident for the council but believes that overall the council is doing an ‘‘extraordinary job’’ in challenging conditions post-quake. 

The Press has obtained dozens of emails from high-ranking council staff that show the campground was flagged for potential closure for more than six months. In January, a report identified that closing the park might be ‘‘politically and publicly unpalatable’’ but councillors were kept in the dark until the day an official announcement was made on May 14.

More than 20 campground residents were told to look for new homes after its only operating toilet block was deemed unfit for use because of structural damage suffered in the earthquakes.

The block is 31 per cent of the new building standard, but needs to be 34 per cent to remain open.

The 3 per cent difference meant the park therefore did not comply with campground regulations and its lease had to be terminated. 

However, two days later the council reversed its decision amid a political and public uproar. 

Human Rights Commission chief commissioner David Rutherford had earlier wrote to Parker and Marryatt, urging them not to close the campground. 

Yesterday temporary portacabins, which house toilets, laundry and kitchen facilities, were installed at the campground at an initial cost of about $50,000. The cost of ongoing hire is still being negotiated.

Council recreation and sports manager John Filsell said the long-term future of the campground was still being investigated and remained uncertain. The cost to repair all earthquake-damaged assets at the site would be more than  $1 million.

He admitted his handling of the campground could have been better.

‘‘I personally regret not giving council an earlier heads-up that we had reached the stage that we had.’’

However, there was no hidden agenda behind the initial decision to close the campground, he said.

Under the Council’s Draft 3-year plan it hopes to keep leasing the area as a campground into the future. Dalziel and councillor Glenn Livingstone were yesterday shown around the campground by leaseholder Lyn Pilling. Dalziel criticised the lack of communication from council staff surrounding the initial closure.

‘‘There just seems to be a lack of connection between the council and councillors and the councillors and the community,’’ Dalziel said.

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‘‘This is just another example of where there is this  disconnect. I think the council needs strong governance and strong lines of accountability,’’ she said. 

‘‘I would like every member of the council staff to be thinking about how they could make life easier for people not how they could stick to proper process.nte

‘‘If the process is standing in the way of a good outcome then let the politicians make the changes that need to be made and you can only do that through proper channels of communication.’’ 

Parker said council staff had been incredibly busy post-quake and ‘‘occasionally something will slip through’’. While the staff involved in the initial decision to close the campground had followed correct procedure, someone should have told councillors in advance, he said.

‘‘It’s drawing a long bow to say that [the initial campground closure] is typical of all council actions. Given the scale of the task there will be other occasions when things don’t run the way we would like them to run, but overall I think our organisation is doing an extraordinary job.’’

- The Press

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