More detail sought for geopark business case

Gary Kircher
Gary Kircher
The business case for the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark has been delayed a month as the window of opportunity for applying to the provincial growth fund (PGF) narrows, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher has confirmed.

The geopark trust's $90,000 business case was itself paid for by the $1-billion-a-year fund.

The case was incomplete, lacking data that had proven difficult to come by.

At a workshop this week, Waitaki District councillors were informed of the work to date by consultants for the trust.

"There's been a bit of a struggle to get the accurate data a good business case should have in it," Mr Kircher said.

"It's requiring information that just hasn't been measured over the years. And so the consultants have had to look a little bit further to make sure that what they come up with does hold water.

"When we go seeking funding - and the PGF will be a significant target - we really need that really solid information.

"Ideally, you build up the geopark over time. But having said that, in all probability PGF funding will only be available for another year or another year and a-half."

Mr Kircher, who is chairman of the geopark trust, called the delay "frustrating", but remained bullish on the establishment of Australasia's first Unesco Global Geopark in the Waitaki district.

In April, the trust temporarily withdrew its application through the New Zealand National Commission for Unesco to become a Unesco Global Geopark - an expected 12-month delay as the trust prepared for a visit from Unesco evaluators.

Unesco describes Global Geoparks as "single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development".

Entry signs to the district and the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark as well as the 43 identified sites in its original application were required.

The council had committed seed funding to help the project get off the ground and some work could be done sooner rather than later, but there was a request for further funding from the council, and councillors were waiting on the business case before making a decision.

"There's not a high cost to get the basics in place, but to do the full job of establishing the geopark there is a potentially reasonably significant cost. And there's work being done on that," he said.

"When the report is released there will obviously be more information on that, including where it comes from. But certainly that goes then into the discussion on PGF funding."

There were "general numbers" around the district for accommodation but those numbers did not capture a complete picture.

"And certainly there haven't been site statistics for any of the 43 sites that will be part of the geopark - but that's OK, it's just a matter of finding the right information that will inform the final decision."

Mr Kircher said he would likely soon step back from his role with the trust, but he believed a geopark would not only benefit visitors but also be of good interest to locals.

"As far as an attraction goes, it umbrellas so much of what we've got and that's the benefit. In the past, we've tried to market individual attractions; so many of them fit under the the umbrella of geopark and it's a global brand that will help us to sell what we have to tourists and create more business. But as I say, knowing about your own place gives you a greater appreciation for it."

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