Rotorua Lakes Council backs down on imported Korean mud

Rotorua Lakes Council was criticised for a planned mud import.
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Rotorua Lakes Council was criticised for a planned mud import.

Rotorua's Mudtopia festival will go ahead without a planned import of $90,000 worth of South Korean mud.

In a statement released on Monday, Rotorua Lakes Council backed down on the decision to import the cosmetic mud for the December festival. 

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick also issued a statement saying that despite efforts to reassure the public about the Korean cosmetic mud's safety, "the public perception is that a risk remains".

Just last Thursday, August 3, as the matter was discussed at council, Chadwick said continuing the festival without the Korean mud risked "diplomatic embarrassment".

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However in her statement on Monday, Chadwick said removing the mud import would allow the festival to continue without distraction.

"I'm pleased that decision has been made so that we can move on and focus on organising a great event." 

She acknowledged too that despite Ministry for Primary Industries' pledges over the mud product's safety, "that hasn't reduced the public's anxiety".

Chadwick also defended the festival concept.

"There is a bigger picture involved in the economic benefits and opportunities major events like this can bring, and they cannot happen without council and other support to get them off the ground so they can eventually become self-sustaining. Sometimes that means council owning them, at least initially."

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Chadwick also referred to last week's council meeting, when a proposal to continue the festival without the mud import was first mooted.

"A motion put to continue the festival without the imported mud was unsuccessful, but in light of the ongoing public concern since then, it was appropriate for the matter to be reconsidered by the festival team," she said.

"The impact of today's decision on our agreement and relationship with the Boryeong festival is something that will now be worked through."

Unsurprisingly, the U-turn was welcomed by the Rotorua District Residents & Ratepayers' (RDRR) lobby group.

"Public push-back against the ridiculous decision to buy mud from South Korea has finally forced Mayor Steve Chadwick and her followers to back down," the group said in a statement.

"The RDRR demands an apology for the vilification and an assurance that the cynical use of council PR campaigns will end."

RDRR chair, and former Rotorua councillor Glenys Searancke, also took aim at Chadwick and councillor Trevor Maxwell.

"The mayor and her cultural ambassador Cr Trevor Maxwell made a unilateral decision to buy mud that made Rotorua the laughingstock of the world," she said.

Councillor Raj Kumar, an RDRR-endorsed candidate, also criticised council's response to press coverage.

"The PR campaign was an attempted cover-up of a dumb decision that backfired badly," he said.

"Councillor [Charles] Sturt was right when he called it a PR nightmare, but it was one of our own making.

"He [Sturt] and others of the mayor's supporters now need to explain why they agreed to the cover-up, how they propose to restore Rotorua's reputation internationally and ensure the success of the Mudtopia festival, and how they will prevent any future abuse by the council's spin doctors of the media and legitimate stakeholders who have every right to be critical."

The planned import drew the ire of the Taxpayers' Union, which said it was a wasteful use of taxpayer funds.

"On Thursday, the council reaffirmed the decision to spend the money, and was even threatening legal action against the union for drawing public attending to this ridiculous proposal. Today's decision makes a very welcome turnaround," said executive director Jordan Williams. 

Rotorua MP Todd McClay also joined the chorus welcoming the decision, saying the issue had become a distraction to what is otherwise a good idea.

"Mudtopia retains the potential to promote Rotorua as a must visit destination and bring many more visitors to our city.  We are famous for geothermal attractions, world-class spa facilities and our mud – this festival showcases the best of Rotorua to the world," he said. 

"Concerns were raised by the rural community around the imports and we risked losing public confidence in the event. Council's decision today is pragmatic and shows they have listened to these concerns. I will be buying a ticket and taking my family along. All of Rotorua can now get behind Mudtopia."

Kiwifruit Claim chairman John Cameron said on Saturday that importing the mud wasn't worth the risk for MPI, due to a recent outbreak of foot and mouth in South Korea.

Rotorua Lakes Council spokesman Henry Weston said the decision had been made to run the festival without the imported mud.

"We were satisfied with MPI processes and requirements which would have ensured the safety of the imported cosmetic mud powder," he said. 

"However, given the heightened public unease and the importance of needing to alleviate that, we have made the decision to proceed without the imported product."

About 10kg of the mud had already been imported for testing purposes and was cleared by MPI, Weston said last week.

Rotorua's Mudtopia festival is based on a festival in Boryeong, South Korea.

The purchase of the cosmetic mud was to be a promotion for the Korean festival, which in exchange was providing intellectual property and advice to the Rotorua event. 

 - Stuff

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