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No reason to give up control of the Botanic Garden, or Wilton’s Bush

by Peter Brooks
I agree with Wellington.Scoop’s critique of the strange council decision ( More control, or less?) that direct council control of the Botanic Garden and Otari-Wilton’s Bush is to be surrendered to a new council-controlled organisation, not because the existing arrangements are unsatisfactory, but because another unrelated organisation is in trouble. To create the critical mass to justify their solution, the council has opted to distance itself from the management of two of its priceless ecological assets.

It is reasonable (and probably politically imperative) for the council to require a thorough audit of Zealandia’s operations. As with most organisations (especially those where dedication and enthusiasm for a cause can distort judgement) costs should be able to be squeezed out of the system and opportunities found for new income. But the two council-run organisations are very unlikely to help in that process. They are not commercial operations. The Zoo is, and some synergies exist which might justify closer co-operation. But why should an organisation concerned with the nurturing of wild life in the wild be forced to twin with one concerned with caged animals? Philosophically they are poles apart.

In terms of finding cost savings and identifying new revenue opportunities, it would seem likely that the proposed high level management team provided to work to the new CCO is likely to be more productive of new ideas than the CCO itself. So why not create a task force of suitably qualified professionals to work with the current Zealandia Board (which already has strong city council nominees) to establish a new business plan with revised targets for revenue and for cost savings?

This is a Wellington city issue. I see no reason why appropriate city corporates should not be asked to nominate relevant professionals to work on the problem for say six weeks on a pro bono basis. (Many of them will be inhabitants of the inner ‘executive leafy suburbs’ and be beneficiaries of the wildlife supplied by the sanctuary!).

Both Zealandia’s managers and the council have made serious misjudgements over this enterprise. The price of further assistance has to be some loss of independent judgement. But that is no justification for grabbing the assets and seizing the governance of what is essentially a citizens’ enterprise which has established a unique facility for the city.