Thursday, February 22, 2024

Debate continues on future of War Memorial Hall

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Ted Waters, pictured inside his popular cafe The Apothecary, asks whether the Howick War Memorial Hall building needs a full-time manager. Times file photo Wayne Martin

Well-known local restaurateur Ted Waters is joining the ongoing debate about the stalled process to appoint a manager for the Howick War Memorial Hall.

The building in Picton Street was closed along with most Auckland Council-owned facilities in the first half of 2020 when New Zealand went into Covid-19 lockdown.

In late 2021 council staff recommended the Howick Local Board appoint the Howick Village Association (HVA) as the preferred applicant to manage it.

Since then, the issue has been put before the board three times and each time it’s failed to appoint the HVA or any other group as the building’s manager.

That’s left the HVA feeling confused, with chairman Ken Scott recently saying: “Three times now it’s gone through a very robust process, it’s gone to the board and they’ve been unable to make a decision, so that’s very frustrating and disappointing”.

The building is currently being managed by the council as a venue for hire.

Waters, who co-owns Picton Street eateries The Apothecary, Daisy Chang and Piggy Bar, says if a group is eventually appointed the building’s manager it should be one that represents “all of Howick”.

He doesn’t believe the HVA is suitable as it covers a limited geographical area.

“If there’s a good group of diverse characters trying to represent as many parts of the community as possible to put something together, I think the board might support it and make it all about Howick,” Waters says.

“The groups I’ve heard were interested do want to run it. They don’t want to hand it over to the HVA.

“I think if there was an organisation that represented all of Howick, that should be the group that runs it.”

Waters says the building could be left with the council to continue to operate as a venue for hire.

“In this day and age it’s all automated. It possibly doesn’t need a manager.”

In response to Waters’ comments, the HVA’s executive committee says it understands the frustration and opinions people may have about the war memorial hall.

“The contract to be signed with council is a 36-page document, including having the building open at least five days a week during business hours, including liabilities for any damage to the facility and performance parameters.

“Having a manager overseeing this building helps mitigate those liabilities for our members.”

The committee says the building has been available to book for more than two years and remains “drastically underutilised”.

It’s empty for the “majority of the time” so the current arrangement doesn’t create a vibrant, thriving town centre, it says.

“With the running of the facility the council has to sign a contract with KPIs (key performance indicators) with an established entity.

“To get a group of various different parties with different agendas and priorities to form a legal entity that results in equitability and fair accountability will be very difficult.”

And the committee says the council has gone through a lengthy rigorous process and considered all options.

“It’s worked with all interested parties and come to the conclusion three times the HVA is the best option to activate and open the building for the public.

“The HVA has always wanted the community to utilise the building and is keen to work with all community groups to see the facility occupied.”

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