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The programme aims to promote New Zealand’s important places by branding them as landmarks.
The landmarks will be identified as high-quality cultural and historical experiences and it is expected they will contribute to increased and more dispersed tourism.
But which Otago sites will be selected and when an announcement will be made is being kept under wraps.
In December last year, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Department of Conservation (Doc), Heritage New Zealand and local iwi and hapu announced nine sites in Northland, including New Zealand’s first planned European settlement at Marsden Cross, New Zealand’s oldest standing European buildings in Kerikeri, and the site of the final battle of the New Zealand Wars, as the first identified "landmarks" in what is described as a new unified approach to promoting New Zealand’s important places.
In the pilot programme, there was no nomination process and the nine sites were selected by experts from sites administered by Doc and Heritage New Zealand, but as the programme is launched in Otago the ministry has solicited nominations from the Dunedin City Council and the Waitaki, Clutha, Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago District Councils. All up, 39 nominations have been made by Otago councils for sites to be recognised.
This week the ministry’s policy and sector performance group manager, Karen Adair, said she preferred "not to release details on individual sites until we have worked through the selection process". Landmarks project manager Alan McKenzie said that while the Otago roll-out was "halfway through", he preferred to limit what he divulged to the Otago Daily Times.
"We’re not running some sort of top secret thing.
"It’s a bit like Christmas really — we would rather unwrap the present at Christmas time rather than unwrap it slowly in the weeks or months preceding.
"It’s not because we want to hide something; it’s simply because we want to arrive at the point where we make a big fuss about it."
Otago’s landmarks would be announced in the "coming months" and he could not say when a national list would be completed "simply because the plan, such as it is at the moment, is to roll out Landmarks Whenua Tohunga, by region, over the next few years".
The landmarks would not replace Heritage New Zealand’s planned National Historic Landmarks, despite sharing a common name, he said. In an information pack provided to councils, obtained by the ODT, councils are told an announcement of Otago’s landmarks is planned for this year and that as well as cultural significance and "storytelling potential", community benefits would be considered as criteria for selection.
The report lists 54 public heritage sites in Otago, including the Oamaru historic area, the Dunedin Railway Station, the Otago Rail Trail and Taieri Gorge Railway, Gabriels Gully and the Bannockburn sluicings as possible examples of places that could potentially gain landmark status.
But it cautions "like Northland it is likely that we can only select a small proportion of what may be eligible at this time".
"The programme supports regional development through increased tourism, creating opportunities for local businesses and supporting high-quality visitor experiences in the regions. It gives people a reason to visit places often perceived as 'off the tourist trail' and stay longer; it aligns with the government’s tourism strategy, particularly through a focus on regional and seasonal dispersal; and the Landmarks brand creates a level of quality to meet visitors’ expectations for high-quality cultural and historic experiences."
The Central Otago District Council has led the way with 13 nominations. The Clutha District Council has nominated three sites, the Dunedin City Council nine sites, the Queenstown Lakes District Council six sites and the Waitaki District Council eight sites. The Northland Regional Council’s council-controlled economic development organisation Northland Inc partnered with Landmarks for the Northland pilot and this week Northland Inc regional promotions and tourism general manager Paul Davis said Northland’s landmarks had been well-received by tourists and locals and paired well with another Northland Inc project identifying "journeys" through "off-the-beaten-track side routes".
"These sites really are the best of the best," he said.
"If you said there were 39 best-of-the-best landmarks in Otago, I’d say, well that’s a lot. And not wanting to devalue some of those sites, but if this is going to work and some of those places are real landmarks, it needs to be really the best of the best."
The ministry said it was "working with our treaty partners to identify significant sites and to ensure that all sites tell the full history of the site and represent New Zealand’s important places".
Upoko Runanga o Moeraki David Higgins said this week he had yet to meet with the ministry.