Fri, Aug 5, 2022 1:49 PM

Back to the drawing board for aviation museum as funding denied

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Maia Hart

The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre has been unsuccessful in its bid to gain significant funding to expand its World War II exhibition.

Instead, it is going back to the drawing board to come up with the funds, which would see the popular exhibit double in size.

The centre, owned and operated by The New Zealand Aviation Museum Trust, asked the council in March to loan up to $1.7 million for their expansion. They were hoping the Lottery Significant Projects Fund would supply close to $3m – or 60 per cent of the total cost of the project.

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The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre wants to expand their WWII exhibition, and become “guardians” of the John Smith Collection. SUPPLIED: BRYA INGRAM/STUFF

But the lottery funding was unsuccessful, so the trust has instead decided to focus on getting the expansion built – before they put their focus on the fit-out.

​In doing so, they asked the council to fund up to $1.2m, by way of underwrite from a council reserves account, or loan, to help build the expansion. This was a lower figure than what the council initially approved.

It was also subject to the trust receiving confirmation of equivalent funding from fundraising.

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Marlborough District Council economic, community and support services manager, and New Zealand Aviation Museum trustee Dean Heiford. SUPPLIED: STUFF

Marlborough District Council economic, community and support services manager, and New Zealand Aviation Museum trustee Dean Heiford says the lotteries funding was “oversubscribed” and “a bit of a long shot”.

Speaking to councillors at a planning and finance committee meeting last week, Dean says the trust had since had a “number of private individuals” come forward to say they would be interested in helping fund the expansion.

So in the meantime, they wanted to build the “shell” of the building, Dean says.

​Council chief executive Mark Wheeler says, on the positive side, by approving the funding it would give them certainty, and a better chance of attracting funding from elsewhere too.

But some councillors did not agree with the recommended request – as an “underwrite” would reduce the council’s Forestry and Land Development reserves account to $300,000.

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Deputy mayor Nadine Taylor said it was “entirely unacceptable” for the council’s reserve funding to fall to $300,000. SUPPLIED: STUFF

Deputy mayor Nadine Taylor instead suggested they amend the recommendation in the report to agree to fund up to $1.2m by way of a loan, or bank guarantee.

“I think that this word underwrite is really problematic,” Nadine says.

“It is a grant, and I would like ... in future to see us using grant ... to be more specific.”

She says it was “entirely unacceptable” for the Forestry and Land Development reserves account to fall to $300,000.

“Because that reserve fund, as we know, draws on extra council environment work, extra council staffing work, and community needs.”

She went on to clarify that this was about the council being “fiscally responsible”, not whether the project had merit or not.

Councillor Brian Dawson agreed, saying the amount the trust was looking for was “substantial”.

But planning and finance committee chairperson, councillor Mark Peters is concerned amending the recommendation would “saddle” a future council when it came to providing the funding.

“If it's supported by the majority, fine, [but] personally I feel that an underwrite gives the next council a clear number of options other than a loan, which might be beneficial to the Aviation Centre,” he says.

The majority of councillors voted in favour of the amendment, and the matter was moved to full council, set down for August 11, for consideration.

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The Classic Fighters Airshow could provide a fundraising opportunity for the trust. SUPPLIED: STUFF

Centre chief executive Jane Orphan previously told councillors they were under “significant pressure” to display WWII aircraft of national significance. They had been approached by the John Smith Collection to become “guardians”.

The collection of original WWII New Zealand aircraft, preserved by the late John Smith of Mapua, was widely recognised amongst the international aviation community.

“It should be regarded as a national treasure to be preserved, housed and displayed,” Jane says.

The Department of Internal Affairs community operations acting general manager Leonie Matoe​ said the Lottery Significant Projects Fund was heavily oversubscribed and there was insufficient funding to fund all eligible projects in the round.

The allocation for the fund in the 21-22 year was $16m. It received 22 applications requesting a total of $65m, with six approved.

“However, with the introduction of a new ‘community wellbeing and resilience’ priority area, and a number of projects aligning strongly to this, the committee decided that this request did not align as closely with its priorities as the requests that were funded,” Leonie says.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air.

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