Ombudsman investigates Cromwell events centre process

by Kim Bowden - May 02, 2023

The Chief Ombudsman is formally investigating the Central Otago District Council’s process in planning for Cromwell’s new events centre.

David George, who first complained to the Ombudsman in October, has confirmed to Crux he received written confirmation of a formal investigation yesterday (May 1).

Complainant David George: 'I did not take this step to be pedantic'.

Mr George’s complaint centres on the degree to which the wider community has been included in the decision to relocate the town’s museum to the new facility, in a move that will displace the existing cenotaph.

It is the view of Mr George that the council has not adequately engaged with the public during the project’s design phase nor has it considered other potential sites for the museum.

He says no public meetings have been held and input from representatives of community groups that were invited to be been part of an advisory group on the project may not be sufficiently representative of their organisations or the wider community. 

“I did not take this step to be pedantic, not at all.

It gives us - the community - an opportunity for oversight of a project that will have an impact for generations.

I want to give the CODC wriggle room - to give them a bit of time to adjust and to act.”

However, Cromwell Community Board chair and project advisory group member Anna Harrison is pushing back at Mr George’s concerns, saying over the past five years “there has been many opportunities for community input”.

She lists the community engagement that happened in creating the Cromwell masterplan, the most recent long term plan and recent annual plans as examples.

“This has all steered us toward a culture and heritage precinct that includes a new hall facility and museum within that precinct in the location of the current hall.

“We believe our community would love to see this project come to fruition. We’re mostly being urged to get on with it.”

Exactly what to do with the problem-plagued war memorial hall is a project deputy mayor and Cromwell local Neil Gillespie says he has been involved with "from day one".

"No one else has had quite the longevity. It's disappointing to think that someone in the community is concerned about the process, which I think is as good as you can get."

He says it is Mr George's prerogative to take up his cause, but personally thinks "the horse has bolted".

"At the end of the day the council has consulted with the community extensively, developed an outcome through the appropriate process and is now working to implement that.

"The community has spoken, but he is not happy with it."

Cromwell Community Board chair and project advisory group member Anna Harrison says including the Cromwell museum in a new arts, culture and heritage precinct on the site of the existing memorial hall was clearly flagged in the last long term plan consultation (Image: CODC).

A spokesperson for the CODC’s project team says they are aware an investigation by the Chief Ombudsman is underway.

In the interim, it will not impact on their plans, and “work is continuing”, they say. 

Mr George says he is a member of the RSA and a local historian.

He has stood unsuccessfully for a seat on the council and the Cromwell Community Board.

He says it is his view last week's Anzac Day service, where speaker former mayor Peter Mead told a hundreds-strong audience about the history of the cenotaph and the proposal to shift it, was the first time many in the community had heard of the plan.

He was unable to tell Crux of any supporters.

"I do have a support base - but have been sworn to secrecy. People are really scared about being scapegoated and ostracised."

Main mage: An architect's impression of the proposed Cromwell events centre, with the museum located within the right-hand side of the proposed building (from this angle), where the war memorial cenotaph is now located.

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