Nelson’s hanging flower baskets are either a colourful badge of civic pride or décor reminiscent of a 1950s retirement village, depending on who you ask.
However, one thing that’s not up for debate is the reality of their annual $100,000 cost.
The baskets were on track to be pruned out of Nelson City Council’s 2024-34 Long Term Plan to save costs, but councillors narrowly voted to keep them during a meeting last month.
Councillor Mel Courtney led the effort to retain the baskets, saying removing them would do “untold reputational damage” to the city.
“The flowering baskets mean a lot to people and would be missed by so many if taken away. The hanging baskets show we care, the hanging baskets show that we have civic pride,” he said.
Not all elected members were persuaded by his argument, however, with councillor Pete Rainey saying that not everyone in the city loved the flower baskets.
“There are also some that say the hanging baskets make the town look like an old people’s home. I don’t necessarily think the same thing, but I can understand where they’re coming from. It certainly stamps the city with a certain style.”
He believed the annual $100,000 cost could instead be directed to more frequent cleaning of the city centre, something he said retailers wanted.
Deputy Mayor Rohan O’Neill-Stevens voted in favour of retaining the baskets, but also raised the possibility of using the money to hire someone dedicated to revitalising the central city.
Mayor Nick Smith said removing the baskets would be a “retrograde step” but did add that the council should explore options to reduce the cost of the baskets.
Since 2003, the baskets have cost a total of $1.7 million. The cost for the 2023/24 summer season was $108,724 for 730 baskets — about $148 per basket.
If the baskets remain in the 2024-34 Long Term Plan, they are expected to cost about $1 million over the next decade.
Retailers previously contributed to the baskets with an initial $20 fee that rose over time to $40. New retailers joining the display paid higher costs of up to $95 to help pay for the irrigation system, while retailers outside of the CBD paid $120 to be involved.
However, this approach was abandoned after the 2020/21 summer when the council began footing the entire bill. This ensured the baskets were spread consistently through the city after some retailers dropped out of the display, resulting in an uneven spread of baskets.
Simon Duffy, manager of Uniquely Nelson, said the baskets helped beautify the central city and provided a point of difference between Nelson and other cities.
“The hanging flower baskets certainly add to the CBD in several different ways.”
He said he spoke to retailers who supported keeping the baskets, despite the cost.
Duffy said he hears similar feedback from visitors.
“The positivity around the flowers is huge.”
The council is expected to adopt its consultation document for the 2024-34 Long Term Plan on March 21 with consultation following soon after.
Residents will be able to provide feedback on dozens of proposals, including funding the hanging basket display for the next 10 years.
By Max Frethey, Local Democracy Reporter
Local Democracy Reporting is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air