The decision is in — the Chief Ombudsman has informed the Central Otago District Council (CODC) it did not act unreasonably in its consultation regarding the Cromwell Memorial Hall.
However, Cromwell man David George is vowing to continue to fight.
What to do with the town’s out-of-date Memorial Hall has been the source of much contention spanning more than two decades.
In February the Cromwell Community Board endorsed preliminary designs for a new $38 million multipurpose complex to replace the original 60-year-old building on Melmore Tce.
The price tag has since ballooned to $42.8m, with council staff advising community board members and district councillors delays would see costs grow.
After receiving a complaint from Mr George, the Office of the Ombudsman opened an investigation into the council and its consultation surrounding the Cromwell Memorial Hall on May 1.
The complaint centred around an alleged lack of community input into the hall, in particular regarding the relocation of the existing war memorial to another area within the hall grounds, and the inclusion of the Cromwell Museum in the project.
Shortly after the investigation opened, the Cromwell Museum Trust and Cromwell RSA — both organisations which will be incorporated into the new facility, and of which Mr George states he is a member — distanced themselves from the complaint.
Last week Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier informed Mr George and CODC the council had ‘‘not acted unreasonably’’ in its consultation on the project.
Responding to Mr George, the final opinion stated ‘‘identified collaboration with the community as key to its success and prepared a comprehensive plan for achieving this’’ and ‘‘the public were given multiple opportunities to express their views, including in the initial phases when ideas were canvassed, through a survey of shortlisted options, a series of public open days held during the design phase of the project and via a dedicated website’’.
‘‘The option of incorporating the museum into the Arts and Culture Centre was considered at an early stage, with the public having opportunities to be heard on this aspect of the project through the Let’s Talk Options survey,’’ Mr Boshier said.
‘‘It was also evident from an early stage that a multipurpose facility located in the Heritage Precinct would have an impact on the Memorial Gardens and the cenotaph and the public were consulted about this.’
There was also an external stakeholder group, including the Cromwell RSA and Cromwell Museum Trust, representing key stakeholders in the project.
Speaking to the The News, Mr George said he did not believe the Cromwell Community Board had acted in good faith and kept the community involved in the process.
‘‘They’ve come up with a draft plan which is now standard plan, but there’s been no options or alternatives considered,’’ Mr George said.
‘‘They had an open day at McNulty House . . .which they presented those plans but there has been no input in to what is in those plans and stuff like that.’’
‘‘I’m very concerned that we are losing out on our war memorial and our car parking and I still feel the community isn’t sufficiently aware that that’s happening.
‘‘And my supporters, of which I’ve got a number, say ‘‘well people won’t realise what they’ve lost until it’s actually done and dusted and they’ll say, ‘oh, how did that happen?’.’’
Mr George said he intended to meet incoming CODC chief executive Peter Kelly when he started next month.
‘‘I’m going to still keep campaigning though . . .I would like to see the museum put on a different site and I would like to see the war memorial left as it is, on its site that was chosen by my father, his mates and by the RSA in the day as the best site.’’
Mr George said he did not know if it was possible to reverse the hall design ‘‘but I’ll keep going until I’m sure that it’ s not’’.
‘‘I’ll pursue it until I realise I’m beating my head against a brick wall completely — literally the hall wall,’’ he joked.
‘‘I didn’t adopt this role, it just happened in the community — the outlier.’’
Cromwell Community Board chairwoman Anna Harrison welcomed the Ombudsman’s findings.
“We hope this satisfies Mr George’s concerns and look forward to moving the project ahead at the upcoming community board meetings,’’ she said.
‘‘There are some big projects under way in Cromwell, and we as a board feel the community has had significant input into those decisions through things such as the Cromwell Masterplan project.
‘‘Council has been committed from the outset of this project to seek public opinion and be as transparent as possible with our process.
‘‘The Ombudsman’s decision reflects this.”
CODC interim chief executive Dylan Rushbrook said while the work taken to investigate Mr George’s complaint had not directly slowed progress on hall redevelopment, it came at a cost of $4500 in staff hours and ‘‘significant community board member time being diverted away from the project to seek out information required to address this inquiry.’’
‘We acknowledge there should be a high level of public input when spending ratepayer’s money, and the opinion of the Ombudsman shows we have respected that process,’’ Mr Rushbrook said.