From the Mayor - Art Gallery and Heritage Centre

23/09/2014 12:00 a.m.

There's been much discussion about the Art Gallery and Heritage Centre, and rightly so.  Complex legal issues, construction delays and building changes have seen the project's final total cost amount to $9.7m.

Understandably some of you are disappointed and concerned as to how and why this happened, and who's responsible - that's something I take on board as Mayor.

The Council's chief executive is commissioning an independent review of the project to find out what could've been done better and how that knowledge can be applied to the EA Networks Centre and other future projects. I fully support this review and await its findings with interest.

As a Council we make prudent decisions about allocating ratepayers' money every day and the majority of those decisions are good decisions that provide quality services and facilities for the district's growing population.

There will be questions asked about the Art Gallery and Heritage Centre project, if good process was followed? - Questions that will be fully explored in the months to come through the independent review which will be made public.

No one likes spending more than what they've budgeted for and in this instance Council feels exactly the same. Council proceeded with the project, after the Ashburton Trust withdrew its offer to buy the Baring Square building, in good faith that the budgeted $6.6m would be the commitment required for construction.

Yes there were decisions made along the way that have divided past and present councillors - something that was clearly demonstrated through the strong views and opinions expressed around the Council table last week.

As a Council we continued with the project because it provided the best solution to meet the much needed current and future space requirements for the museum and art gallery as well as providing an important community asset and visitor attraction.

I am concerned that with all this debate about process and price we're losing sight that our district can now boast a modern and inspiring Art Gallery and Heritage Centre, a facility that is not only a draw card for thousands of visitors but contributes significantly to our cultural and social wellbeing.

While I know it's no consolation for the cost overruns, it is worth noting that, based on current construction prices, it would cost more than $12m to build the centre now, showing just how much prices have risen since the project started.

It was, in part, increasing building costs such as price of material and labour costs as part of the general Canterbury building costs that pushed the final construction cost to $7.8m. Delays finalising the construction management plan and changes to structural details to meet new earthquake and building code requirements also contributed.

One of these current issues is resident parking. I was caught between a rock and a hard place, wanting to satisfy the nearby residents' justifiable objections but also taking into account the Local Government Act and what's put in front of me at the hearings and listening to that.

Another matter that's been raised is the issue of disclosing project costs to the public. It will be interesting to see what the review says about how Council should put commercially sensitive information into the public domain.

I'm sure, among other things, this issue will be thoroughly examined in the independent review.

Page reviewed: 23 Sep 2014 4:53pm