Horse owners living close to Omaha Flats are calling for an end to a major firework display that has been staged at Sculptureum on New Year’s Eve for the last two years.
They say the loud explosions and flashes from the professional pyrotechnics are terrifying for horses, livestock and pets, and can cause animals to bolt through fences, causing injury and damage.
John Toon keeps horses and cattle on his Leigh Road property and has spent the last two New Year’s Eves trying to restrain and calm frightened horses while the fireworks went off less than a kilometre away. He said the first time in 2020 was completely without warning and he and his partner had to scramble out of bed to tend to their animals.
“The ensuing 15 minutes was chaos,” he said. “We complained, but they were most unapologetic, and said they were going to do them every year.”
This year, Mr Toon posted on local social media pages a warning that the event was happening again, which garnered a strong response from more than a dozen other neighbours and horse owners, worried about animals being traumatised or injured. Several posters said Sculptureum was the wrong place for such large fireworks and some said they wouldn’t be returning to the sculpture gardens and its restaurants in future.
“There’s no place for fireworks in a farming area,” Mr Toon said. “As a concession, they dropped out the huge bass ‘bombs’ this year, but to be honest, it’s the bangs that are more like machine gun fire that cause the problems. It’s eight minutes of hell for our horses.”
Anthony Grant, the Auckland barrister who created Sculptureum in 2017, said last week that he and staff were happy to work with the wider community regarding their concerns, but at this stage the fireworks were intended to be an annual event.
“We wish to be a valuable and welcome member of the Matakana community and from the outset of our plans for the New Year’s Eve function in 2020, we worked with the owners of Matakana Country Park, who are our nearest and most considerable horse-owning neighbours, to adjust our plans for the celebration and mitigate its impacts,” he said.
When asked if Sculptureum would consider using silent fireworks or a light/drone display instead of loud professional fireworks, he expressed concern that they might not be as impressive.
“While we are open to solution-based discussions and ideas regarding the NYE display, we would want to be able to create the same atmosphere and celebratory effect as occurs with fireworks. At this stage, we believe that a light/drone event would be considerably more expensive and not as impressive,” Mr Grant said.
He added that if local residents were calling for a ban on all fireworks in rural areas, that was a political issue of national significance that should be taken up with the Government. And he claimed that, with up to a third of Auckland’s future growth set to occur in the Warkworth area in coming years, Matakana was fast becoming urbanised anyway.
“That growth is proceeding visibly every week and, within a few years, Warkworth and its surrounding areas – including Matakana – will constitute one of the most populous urban centres in New Zealand,” he said. “The Matakana area is ceasing to be a rural area.”
Mr Grant added that Matakana Country Park regularly hosted “some of the biggest and loudest rock concerts in the country, with up to 10,000 people at a time”.