Oruku conference centre on track despite missed deadline

An artist’s impression of the new-look Oruku Landing development.

Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo says the chances of having a new $64 million Oruku conference and event centre in the city won’t be compromised by his council not meeting what it said last week was a key government funding deadline.

A one-person majority vote on Thursday last week (SUBS: March 23) saw Whangārei District Council (WDC) politicians decide to spend up to $11.4 million ratepayers’ money on the centre, subject to conditions. The agenda item they voted on noted government funding for the project was available only until the end of March this year.

However, Cocurullo said on Wednesday the March timeframe was instead effectively a first-stage deadline given by Oruku centre backer Prosper Northland Trust (PNT) to help with its central government negotiations. The final government funding deadline was actually the end of April, so the fact the council’s due diligence would continue beyond Friday (SUBS: March 31), did not mean the centre’s chances were lost.

“Council is not expecting [all the necessary] matters to be resolved prior to Friday 31 March,” Cocurullo said.


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The Government offered $60 million towards the cost of the now-canned 2021 version of the Oruku conference and event centre. WDC spent $1 million of that money on centre investigations.

The offer has been extended several times, the latest and final extension in the wake of the new WDC council being elected in October 2022.

On November 14 last year then Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson wrote to WDC and PNT with one further and final six-month extension to the already much-extended offer.

Last week’s WDC decision to fund the centre came with conditions around checking financials and more, including various leases between main players, PNT building the centre, WDC’s CCO Northland Event Centre Trust (NECT2021) operating it and the 53.6 per cent Northland Regional Council (NRC) owned Marsden Maritime Holdings which owns the land under the facility.


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The decision came without mention of public consultation.

WDC public consultation was done around the previous 2021 Oruku centre version amidst what would have been a much larger council investment and risk. More than 80 per cent of the record 5000-plus council submissions were against that proposal.

Local Democracy Reporting Northland asked the council why public consultation was not raised during two hours of public debate last week.

The council was also asked whether it believed public consultation should have been a necessary consideration at that meeting.

Cocurullo said in response, the decision had been based on available information at that time and was subject to conditions. The new centre proposal was significantly different from its earlier 2021 counterpart.

“Council requires further information on financials, risks and assumptions before any funding can be confirmed.

“Staff are currently working through these matters with a view to coming back to council once the financial contribution is known, along with any funding impacts,” Cocurullo said.

WDC’s significance and engagement policy – required by law under the Local Government Act – requires the council to formally consider whether public engagement or public consultation is required. This is done on a case-by-case basis.

“In general, the more significant a decision, the greater the likelihood of community engagement,” Cocurullo said.

He said the type of public consultation needed would be considered once a project’s financials were worked through.


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Councillors were still waiting on further project information about the proposal.

He said the timing of any further council decisions on whether to proceed with its part of the Oruku centre jigsaw were dependent on more information about the proposal from PNT and NECT2021.

He said WDC had provided the government’s Crown Infrastructure Partners with minutes from the March 23 council meeting.

It was PNT’s responsibility to communicate directly with the government on whether it was willing to proceed with committing to the final funding offer.

Meanwhile, NRC did not confirm details of its participation in the Oruku centre at the time of writing.

Local Democracy Reporting on Wednesday requested information about NRC’s involvement and implications for its ratepayers. Chief executive Jonathan Gibbard said this would probably not be available until the end of the week.


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Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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