Renewed public outcry as Masterton District Council repeats playground removal bid

2:47 pm on 30 March 2021

Masterton District Council staff will again recommend the removal of the iconic playground tractors despite a renewed public outcry to restore the antique vehicles.

The vehicles are removed from Masterton's Queen Elizabeth Park to Bentley St yard in December, where they remain.

The vehicles are removed from Masterton's Queen Elizabeth Park to Bentley St yard in December, where they remain. Photo: Wairarapa Times Age via LDR

The farm equipment's fate rests on a report to councillors at their meeting tomorrow with staffers urging the end of the duo's 60-year stay.

The two trucks' ongoing saga rolls on, and the council's long-term planning considerations will take a back seat.

MDC officers have tagged a $60,000 estimate for repairs after pricing the costs of safeguarding.

On Sunday, councillors held a hastily arranged meeting at the playground to discuss the tractors' future with locals.

Most wanted to see the much-loved blue Fordson and a yellow bulldozer-style crawler tractor return.

The pair were mainstays of Queen Elizabeth Park's Kids Own Playground until December last year.

A report to MDC in 2017 first highlighted potential problems with the pair.

Another assessment in 2019 also found them non-compliant with playground safety rules.

In November, staffers called on councillors to consider removing and replacing the vehicles, which had been in situ since 1960.

MDC may be liable to prosecution for any injuries they caused.

But, after a public outcry, councillors overruled staff suggestions to ditch the duo.

The vehicles were then moved from the park to a council yard on nearby Bentley St.

After the early-morning extraction, an MDC statement to Facebook said the council was starting on "making the bulldozer and tractor better for everyone".

"We're planning to get the work needed to eliminate safety hazards started in the New Year and hope to have them back pretty quickly.

"We know you'll miss them over the summer. Unfortunately, we can't get the work done without having to take them away."

The council then contacted 15 companies about repairs.

Nine expressed an interest in receiving the report, four viewed the items, and three provided a cost estimate.

Locals and councillors discuss the tractors' future at Queen Elizabeth Park.

Locals and councillors discuss the tractors' future at Queen Elizabeth Park. Photo: LDR / Wairarapa Times Age / Sue Teodoro

MDC said these companies were selected because they had either carried out work for the council or had expressed an interest.

These companies all have a background in steel fabrication.

A report to a councillors' meeting tomorrow returns to the original intent of removing the vehicles, at a cost estimate of $60,375, and states that MDC received estimates that cover "a wide value range, which is an indication of the uncertainty of the amount of work required.

"Further, there are uncertainties, as noted above, about the final result of the refurbished equipment.

"Officers have also received separate offers to carry out portions of the work (such as spray painting) at cost which may be able to be pursued should this option be pursued."

The report says "extensive work is required to enclose spaces, remove protrusions, remove moving parts, install shrouds and fill gaps".

"Once repaired, the equipment will look significantly different to the historic agricultural machinery that is familiar to the community."

In February's council meeting, MDC chief executive Kath Ross said the council had found three parties who were able to undertake the repairs and noted the indicative prices given were in the region of $30,000.

Earlier this month, Lambers Engineering, a Masterton based company, said it had been approached and provided a quote for less than half that amount.

"I have no idea where they got that sum from," James told the Wairarapa Times-Age.

"We put in a quote for the work. It's nowhere near that $30,000 mark.

"If they come back and say they accepted the quote near that [$30,000], it's way, way above the mark. Our price wasn't even half that."

James said he had contacted MDC, and it was still considering options. He said he was told that the comment about a $30,000 cost had been "made in passing".

An offer to help came from the Friends of the Park group, which has donated time and effort to previous council projects at Queen Elizabeth Park.

James is a member of that group.

Paul Foster, Diana Abraham, and Graham Dick of Friends of the Park.

Paul Foster, Diana Abraham, and Graham Dick of Friends of the Park. Photo: LDR / Wairarapa Times Age / Marcus Anselm

His colleague Graham Dick has requested to speak at tomorrow's council meeting.

Dick told Local Democracy Reporting that he thought the decision was "a fait accompli".

"The council will present it with astronomical figures, which you can believe, or not, to get them up to the standard, if you believe that or not.

"We're most annoyed about the lack of consultation.

"Where we go from here is debatable."

Dick said he felt the vehicles' fate was an example of decisions and actions made without proper consultation.

"I've got a funny feeling we're being presented with a fait accompli.

"And the civic centre is going to end up in the same way. "We're going to end up with a fait accompli, and that's not the way democracy should work."

In a letter to the Wairarapa Times-Age, fellow group committee member Paul Foster said he was "incensed" by "a lack of transparency from within our council".

Dick said he had submitted to represent the Friends of the Park group at tomorrow's council meeting at Masterton's Waiata House.

Foster said December's removal was instigated by "a very select few of head office staff and no elected Councillors had been involved with this decision.

"There was no time allowed for objection."

Foster, an engineer who MDC commended for his work in the park in 2019, said as a ratepayer, "we are being ill-served by those whom we pay to represent us, and our community."

"I have a personal belief that we are being deceived and the ratepayers of this community need, and in fact demand, accountability from both paid and elected representatives of our council.

"This has not been the case with our tractor and our bulldozer that once graced the playground."

MDC meets at 3pm tomorrow at Waiata House, Masterton.

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