Tauranga MP and National Party leader Simon Bridges says he's disappointed with the results of the museum referendum, but still intends to push for its construction if returned to government in 2020.
Early results released yesterday show 40.6 per cent of voters are in favour of a museum for Tauranga, compared to 59.6 per cent opposed.
“I'm disappointed because I think a museum would have been great,” says Simon. “I think the council overreached by putting forward proposals that on some estimates were close to the $100 million mark. A museum would be acceptable only at a more modest financial amount.”
He says he's always thought the museum could be a ‘$20 million job', which would be ‘hard to argue with'. Most of the funds could come from central government and private investors.
“I think this will be a wakeup call for the councillors, in particular Mr Baldock, because they pushed the boat out far too much – beyond what ratepayers would clearly tolerate.”
He says a modest museum would require putting it in the CBD on Willow Street, as Cliff Road would be ‘too expensive'.
“Cliff Road is a heritage site with a burial area, which would add significant costs and complexity. We also need to continue drawing locals and tourists to the CBD.”
If National returns to government in 2020, Simon says a museum for Tauranga could be on the table again.
“I was clear while in government and now outside it that a museum in Tauranga is something we would support financially. Many hands make light work, so with a bit of ratepayer funding, a bit of private funding, and a significant dollop from the beehive, it would not be difficult to achieve a $20 million museum.”
City Transformation committee chair Larry Baldock says his personal view is that 59.4 per cent of a roughly 30 per cent turnout is not an accurate reflection of what the city's residents want.
“I always felt the referendum was a bad idea at this time, during a by-election and in the middle of a Long Term Plan process. I believe a referendum at a triennial council election would yield a clearer result.
“It's unfortunate the silent majority don't vote on candidates or issues, because we don't know what they really want.”
He blames misinformation to a degree for potentially influencing the outcome of the referendum.
“It wasn't helpful one candidate had signs saying the museum was $55 million when we had capped the council contribution at $15 million. The museum could have been anything from a $30-$50 million museum, depending on external funding. But the ratepayers would not have been paying more than $15 million.”
He believes a second, binding referendum would be worth doing at the next election, with voters given clearer information.
“At normal elections you get close to 40 per cent turnout. And we noticed in this referendum the online component added around five per cent, and I'm interested to see how the people who voted online cast their vote.”
Larry says the results of the referendum will be discussed at the next meeting of the City Transformation committee on Monday.