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Councillor Morrison and the Basin Reserve

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by Alana Bowman
John Morrison has been a trustee of the Basin Reserve Trust since it was established in 2005 “to manage and administer the Basin Reserve on behalf of the Wellington City Council”. There are four trustees, but he is the elected councillor, representing the interests of the people of Wellington. How well has he done?

Walking around the Basin, or reading reports to the council from the Trust, can give an idea about his ability to manage one of the city’s most valuable and historic assets. Past performance could be an indicator of his potential for managing the assets and finances of the City of Wellington.

When people talk about the Basin Reserve – if at all – they usually describe it as a wasted space, under-used by cricket and other sports codes and by public or private events.

The Trust’s protection of the environment of the Basin Reserve has been less than successful. Although John Morrison vowed on Wellington.Scoop (in February 2010) that he wouldn’t support the motorway flyover, he has now voted three times to support it – in exchange for a promised ‘pavilion’ reserved for the use of officials and players and those few admitted into the area designated as “lounges”.

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The 2006 Basin Reserve Business plan included two corporate boxes, one at the northern and one at the southern end of the Basin. Apparently the Transport Agency is to pay for the one at the northern end.

The Transport Agency’s flyover plans include a diagram showing the land designation into the Basin Reserve = not only for the area required for the pavilion, but also extending far into the grass bank loved by cricket fans and removing at least eight historic pohutakawa trees. The land will be the Transport Agency’s to keep after construction of the pavilion and the flyover, if it decides to keep it. John Morrison’s press statements proudly describing negotiations for the pavilion omit mention of this loss of Basin land.

His protection of the interests of cricket fans seems limited to benefiting a few, and not the many who are now denied a place to sit and view a match because Trustees have failed to come up with a plan for the Museum Stand, which was closed last year and declared to be unsafe because of earthquake hazards.

Morrison has repeatedly warned that the loss of the Museum Stand would put the Basin at risk of losing its ability to host first class cricket and the 2015 World Cup. The Cup was included as a scheduled tour in the Basin’s Statement of Intent filed with the Wellington City Council a few months ago. Morrison is silent now that no World Cup matches have been chosen for the Basin – all matches are now going to the Westpac Stadium. (Morrison is also a Stadium trustee.)

The 2012/13 Statement of Intent anticipated that improvements to the Basin for the World Cup would have provided “a legacy asset for the city.”

The promised international tour has lost one team, Sri Lanka, and the Trust promises only 47 event days this year.

The Trustees are responsible for managing the Basin Reserve as well as its facilities – it’s a stunning sports ground as well as a potential venue for entertainment. Have Morrison and his fellow Trustees managed this asset to provide a positive cash flow? Apparently not. Each year since the Trust was established, the city council has subsidised its operations. Not as much as it does for Zealandia, but it is a significant amount each year above the gate receipts, venue rental, hospitality charges, and other income sources.

The Trust loses money each year, except when the council bumps up its usual $180,000 annual grant ($550,000 in 2008 and $255,000 last year). Finding the financial data is difficult, though. Although the Wellington City Council 2011/12 Annual Report for CCOs provided Westpac Stadium’s revenue from events as well as the number of events, the Basin Trust provided only the number of events (28). The new CEO should insist on more complete information in future.

Even with a council contribution of $355,000, the Basin Reserve Trust anticipates a deficit of $78,000, according to the 2013/14 Statement of Intent. No one from the Trust appeared before the council’s CCO performance committee to report on either the finances or the management of the Basin Reserve.

The Basin is the oldest cricket ground in New Zealand, praised by cricketers and fans, and loved as well. The cost of maintaining such a national asset can be justified by its significance, beauty, and place in history. Last year Council provided additional money to improve drainage. The grounds are beautiful. But the rest of the place is a mess.

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The Museum Stand is shabby and neglected – broken windows, unpainted and rotting. No plans have been announced to make it safe, or even paint it or fix the broken windows. Radio New Zealand has reported that the council has allocated $50,000 for its destruction, not repair.

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The Groundsman’s Cottage, built in 1890, is left rotting as well. Pickets are broken and unpainted. Stairs and bleachers also need paint and repairs. Even the hosting responsibility for the England test match last year produced only a coat of paint around a few of the stands the day before the match began.

The toilet blocks are disgusting.

Isn’t the named sponsor, Hawkins, a construction company? Couldn’t John Morrison negotiate an in-kind contribution to restore or renovate the worn and rotting structures?

Good management would have looked everywhere for grant funding, and organised an army of volunteers from fans and the local community. Clubs playing there could be required to donate time to clean and paint the facilities and stands. Instead the management plan appears to be limited to relying on the city council for subsidies and then asking for more as additional needs occur.

When Zealandia proved itself incapable of providing a sound fiscal management plan, the council demanded a change in management. But Morrison remains, after seven years as a trustee. And now he wants a promotion to mayor.

While bragging about having lured a low-wage call centre to Wellington, and finding one positive financial outcome for his Sports Portfolio through the AFL ANZAC game – although half of his promised attendance numbers turned up – Morrison is quiet about the poor management of the Basin Reserve. And so he should be.

Alana Bowman is a Wellington resident who is wildly keen about cricket.