28 Jun 2016

Marlborough's mayor pressured to resign

4:47 pm on 28 June 2016

Marlborough's mayor says calls for his resignation months out from an election are pathetic, but not surprising.

Alistair Sowman

Blenheim Mayor Alistair Sowman Photo: Supplied

Alistair Sowman has been criticised by four councillors who are upset about another request for money from the trust that runs Blenheim's large new theatre.

The $23 million ASB Theatre opened in March this year, despite last-minute financial problems that saw the council step in to help.

Some councillors said the latest request for more funds suggested it was time for the trust to be dissolved and for the council to take over the theatre and its operations. A notice of motion to have been presented at a council meeting this Thursday had not however been accepted, as it had not been submitted on time.

Councillors Jessica Bagge and Jamie Arbuckle have asked for Mr Sowman to stand down as mayor. Mr Arbuckle told RNZ News that Thursday's meeting was likely to be contentious.

Mr Sowman said he was not aware of the call for his resignation until he heard about it via the media.

"No one's told me directly they want me to stand down - I found out through the media, but it's the start of an election campaign so I'm not surprised but it's pretty pathetic really," he said.

Mr Sowman said the council was currently looking at how it might help the theatre trust in ways that did not burden ratepayers.

"We're not in the business of running theatres - we wouldn't take control. We just have to make sure the trust running it is resourced well enough to make the right decisions. For the council to step in now would be a total retrograde step as we simply don't have the resources to operate it."

Blenheim's ASB Theatre

Some councillors are frustrated with the council propping up Blenheim's new ASB Theatre. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Mr Sowman said options included increasing the trust's operating budget, alongside looking at long term debt, and there were options for tackling that without relying on ratepayers. He said it was possible that profits from the sale of Blenheim's old theatre could be used, and port company dividends could be used.

Councillors were opposed to this on the basis it would divert funds from essential infrastructure and services.

Mr Sowman said the theatre had counted 17,000 people through its doors since it opened in March, compared with 15,000 in the old theatre for the whole year. He said the trust was grappling with increased patronage and the need for additional services.

He said it was disappointing that an apparently unpleasant election campaign was building, only weeks out from nominations being called for candidates. Mr Sowman said he planned to announce whether or not he would be standing again, in a few weeks' time.

He said Thursday's meeting would likely be "interesting".

"The group opposing it always have done, so there's nothing new about this," he said.

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