Lantern release locked in as event funding approved

by Kim Bowden - May 08, 2024

Community funding for the "iconic" Light Up Winter festival has been given the green light by the Cromwell Community Board, despite an initial recommendation from council staff that it be withheld.

Up for discussion had been the event's mass lantern release, in response to a Fire and Emergency New Zealand advisory "strongly" recommending against their use.

Speaking at a meeting of the community board on Tuesday, council staffer Dylan Rushbrook argued council staff had to act after being informed of the FENZ advice.

"It would have been negligent of us not to then do some due diligence."

Mr Rushbrook said there had since been some "great work" by the Cromwell and Districts Promotion Group - who organise Light Up Winter - FENZ, and council staff to work through any risks.

"We have now gotten to a point where we are happy with the controls...and we are happy for the grant application to be assessed."

Speaking in the meeting's public forum, Cromwell and Districts Promotion Group chair Carolyn Murray said Light Up Winter had become "an iconic event" for the town, attracting visitors from around the country.

"It brings celebration, community wellbeing benefits and economic stimulus to the town in a typically quiet time of year."

Ms Murray said the FENZ advisory had created an "obstacle" and was "a little bit misleading", in that it was originally aimed at Lunar New Year celebrations - which this year took place in February when many fire warnings were in place.

"Our group has worked exceptionally hard with council's H&S officer and FENZ to provide additional safety measures with regards to the lantern release and we have received FENZ and council approval to proceed."

She said in seven years of running the event, there had been no instances of any lantern causing a fire.

"We are still absolutely committed to delivering a fantastic event for our town as we know how special this event is for locals and visitors."

In response to questioning from Central Otago District mayor Tim Cadogan about the possible environmental risk posed by the lantern release, Ms Murray said the lanterns used were wire free and biodegradable, plus a sports club or similar was contracted each year to chase down fallen lanterns after the event.

The funding is subject to the approval and adoption of the council's Annual Plan, and the Light Up Winter event will also still require sign-off from council staff.

In total, the community board approved $95,000 of funding for the promotions group, which runs the annual National Cherry Stone Spitting Competition and Fireworks and Street Party in addition to Light Up Winter.

A report presented to the community board's elected members in the lead up to Tuesday's meeting had raised concerns about the lantern release from both a fire risk and sustainability view.

The recommendation had been that members consider assessing only the funding requests from the promotions group relating to the cherry festival and street party and fireworks, and not the winter festival.

"By considering and funding the application as it has been received, council believes any reasonable person would perceive that to be supporting the lantern release," the report reads.

"As a result, the Light Up Winter component of the application has been excluded from consideration."

Main image (Supplied)

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