The Te Mata Park Trust Board has announced that it will not be proceeding with its plans for a $4.3million Visitor & Education Centre. “This has been an incredibly tough decision to make – so much time, effort and enthusiasm has been invested from across the community, not to mention an amazing amount of funds, with $3.3million raised. It’s been hard to get this far, and even harder to now decide not to go ahead,” said Bruno Chambers, Chairman of the Trust.
The decision follows an independent review of the project commissioned by the Trust to re-examine both the long-term sustainability of the project and its alignment to current and future community needs.
“The Trust Board felt it was critical to get an independent review to ensure all stakeholders could feel 110% confident the Centre would be fit for purpose and pay its way, before proceeding. It’s been over seven years since we started and there have been some key changes in the economics of the project over that time. We’ve also seen a number of other Hawke’s Bay projects struggle and recognised that the community, quite rightly, should not be expected to support initiatives that are not managed to the highest standards of accountability and sustainability,” Mr Chambers said.
The Trust appointed Dave Bamford of TRC Tourism, an industry expert with over 30 years experience in sustainable tourism and recreation and park management. TRC’s review process involved extensive consultation with key stakeholders and community and tourism leaders, bench-marking against comparable projects both nationally and internationally, and an analysis of the construction and operational costs of the proposed Te Mata Park Visitor & Education Centre against projected revenue streams.
“TRC Tourism has just delivered its report – their recommendations confirmed the Trust’s increasing concerns about the long-term viability of the Centre as it was conceived. While it’s good to have these validated, it doesn’t make this announcement any easier”, said Mr Chambers.
The TRC report found that the Centre, as planned, would be a significant liability for the Trust, and that a project of this scale would over-stretch the limited resources of the Trust, presenting a real risk that other Park management issues would be neglected.
In commenting on his findings, Mr Bamford said, “We have great respect for the considerable efforts the Te Mata Park Trustees have made to develop the proposed Visitor & Education Centre project to get it to this stage. Te Mata Park is a highly valued local resource and a great asset to the Hawke’s Bay community. While the Park certainly deserves additional resources and facilities, we found that the proposed project presented significant risks for the Trust in the long-term.”
The Te Mata Park Visitor & Education Centre project had established substantial momentum over the past five years, securing commitments from all three local Councils, gaining resource consent, and achieving close to 80% of its $4.3m fundraising target. Over the period 2008 to the present, the Trust has invested $320,000 in the project. This includes some early seed-funding support from Hastings District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
“This is a large amount of money for a small charitable trust to have spent, along with the thousands of hours of volunteer time also invested, it’s a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. However, the Trust has been able to meet these costs and nothing further will be spent on the project,” confirmed Mr Chambers.
However, the underlying needs that were the catalyst for the Centre remain, and continue to increase. The Trust will be speaking to all donors who have already paid contributions (totalling some $175,000) and to the private individuals and philanthropists who have made pledges to the Visitor & Education Centre. All will have the opportunity to be released from their commitments, but the Trust hopes that the majority will continue to support the Park and a revised plan for development.
John and Michelle O’Sullivan made a generous pledge to the project last year. When briefed on the Trust’s decision, John commented, “Te Mata Park is a wonderful part of our heritage and will continue to be for many more generations. It’s so important we all look after it and that whatever we do for the Park, we get it right. So Michelle and I agree this is a good call from the Trust – to stop and weigh up the alternatives. We’re confident that over the next six months they will develop an exciting way forward and are happy to maintain our commitment and to hearing of the Trust’s plans for the future of the Park.
All institutional grants secured specifically for the construction of the Centre will be relinquished. These include $500,000 from Lotteries and $200,000 from Eastern & Central Community Trust.
The Trust is working with each of the three Councils to retain their cornerstone commitments made as part of the 2012 Long Term Planning process (Hastings District Council $1.1million, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council $500,000, Napier City Council $250,000).
Lawrence Yule, Mayor of Hastings District Council, the largest contributor to the project, commented on the announcement today, saying “This is a tough but courageous decision by the Te Mata Park Trust. It’s not easy to call a halt to a big project when it has got this far down the track. The Council is pleased that the Trust has had the discipline to get expert external advice, and the humility to accept it. There are challenges ahead in terms of the long-term management of the Park, and the Council is committed to supporting the Trust in planning their way forward.”
Te Mata Park is undeniably in need of new facilities. It is under pressure due to significant increases in users (both locals and visitors to Hawke’s Bay), the lack of amenities and facilities within the Park, the absence of interpretative and educational information, the increasing needs of recreational users (particularly walkers and mountain bikers) and congestion and safety issues in car parks and on the upper sections of Te Mata Peak Road. Combined with the Trust’s ongoing responsibility for the management of Park’s unique ecology and landscape, there is still a strong case for the development of facilities within the Park and more proactive management of the physical environment. With support and specialised assistance from Hastings District Council, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Napier Council, the Trust will now develop a Management Plan that sets out the operational and development priorities for Te Mata Park for the next 10 years.
Kim Thorp, owner of Black Barn and one of those consulted in the TRC review commented, “In my opinion it is best to start big and visionary rather than small and insignificant – however that vision does need to be thoroughly and constantly stress-tested against realistic budgets, timeframes and changing usage expectations. I think the Trust has made a responsible decision to pause and take stock. That said, Hawke’s Bay still needs and deserves ambitious landmark attractions and Te Mata Park is probably our most powerful and iconic natural asset with huge potential. So the Trust should be encouraged to continue in their efforts to develop an exciting future vision for the Park.”