14 May 2020

Covid-19 may change National Aquarium's ambitious plans

2:36 pm on 14 May 2020

The fate of the National Aquarium in Napier hangs in the balance after the government declined to fund an extra $500,000 towards a business case for a multimillion dollar revamp of the facility.

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The Napier City Council had been planning to spend $77.5 million on a new aquarium. Photo: Supplied

Napier City Council expanded the project last year after it came to light that a much bigger aquarium was needed, as the current facility was no longer fit for purpose due to animal welfare concerns.

The Provincial Growth Fund had already contributed half of the $700,000 cost of the business case for the original proposal, but has refused a request from the council for an additional $500,000 towards a new $1.45 million business case.

The council had hoped to secure between $15m to $35m from the PGF towards the $77.5m cost of the new aquarium, with Napier ratepayers contributing $10m and the rest coming from corporate sponsorship.

However, that idea appears dead in the water as the council indicated it would not be making another funding bid from the PGF.

Police Minister Stuart Nash

Stuart Nash Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Napier MP Stuart Nash said the plan was always going to be a hard sell to Napier ratepayers given the high cost of running the facility, which would be borne by the council.

"This was going to cost Napier ratepayers $2m to $4m a year to run, and getting corporate sponsors to foot operational costs in this environment would be close to impossible.

"I don't know if, in a business-as-usual environment, Napier ratepayers would have been prepared to stump up millions of dollars to build this, and millions of dollars a year to keep it running."

While the concept of a new aquarium would have been good for Napier and Hawke's Bay "the reality is that it would have cost us a significant amount of money that in this environment we can't afford", Nash said.

All capital projects would be revisited in the coming months to "assess their viability and benefits" to the city, a Napier City Council spokesperson said.

"Nothing can be certain now that Covid-19 has changed the economic landscape.

"The existing National Aquarium of NZ has a range of challenges in its current state. The ongoing budget required for the National Aquarium to address these issues requires careful consideration and management to ensure we can meet and maintain minimum standards for animal welfare and health and safety.

"We understand the aquarium is a much loved facility by many local residents and any future decisions would be subject to a special consultative procedure with our community."

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