23 Mar 2020

Local Government NZ says councils working together on closure decisions

7:55 am on 23 March 2020

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More local authorities around the country are closing public venues today as the fight against Covid-19 heats up.

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Facilities being closed by councils include swimming pools, libraries and community centres. Photo: Phillip Capper [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

The head of Local Government New Zealand says council leaders were part of a virtual group which worked over the weekend to develop guidelines for closing council amenities like swimming pools and libraries.

The Nelson City Council said yesterday it was closing all its community venues, while Tasman District will be closing its libraries.

The Gisborne District Council announced last night the immediate closure of its customer services at Awarua Fitzherbert Street, Bright Street, Te Puia and the cemetery service centre.

Its parking wardens, environmental health and animal control officers will have limited public contact while a decision on public amenities is to be made today.

The Marlborough District Council is closing its libraries in Blenheim and Picton and the Stadium 2000's public facilities including the swimming pools and gym, the Millennium Art Gallery, Edwin Fox Museum in Picton and the Marlborough Museum in Blenheim.

Nelson city said its swimming pools, community centres and venues will be closed from today until further notice.

Tasman district said closure of libraries in Richmond, Motueka and Takaka is a first step and it was likely closures of more public venues would follow.

A Nelson council spokesperson said parking enforcement in the central city would also be relaxed to support social distancing, and to provide flexibility for the public and city workers.

On the weekend councils in the Wellington region, including in Wellington, Porirua and the Hutt moved to close community facilities, while Kāpiti, Horowhenua and Waikato District Councils are closing facilities from today, Christchurch has also followed suit.

Last week Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said libraries, pools and recreation centres in Auckland would close for two weeks due to the Covid-19 epidemic.

Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull said local government leaders and officials worked with the Department of Internal Affairs and the Prime Minister's office to develop the decision-making framework.

"Very quickly, the working group came to the conclusion that a decision-making framework would be helpful for councils, so they can slot their risk profile into that, and that tells them whether they need to shut down things, or leave them open a bit longer."

Cull said each council had a different risk profile but it was inefficient to tackle alone the challenge of closing amenities. He said councils began thinking about it last week, but needed guidelines.

"Each council will come to a different conclusion. The number of people wanting to come into a pool or a library in Manukau will be quite different from maybe Timaru, or Gisborne."

Cull said the framework was to help councils make good, coherent decisions based on their own risk profile.

He said decision-making was challenging in an environment when things were changing by the minute.

"Councils might make a decision one day, and then rescind it the next because they've moved on to the next stage and have to do something different."

Cull said it was the start of potentially tougher decisions by councils, if community transmission of Covid-19 took hold.

"All sorts of more difficult decisions are going to have to be made by councils, and by district health boards for that matter."

He said that might mean having more of their workforce operating from home, and a wider closure of public facilities.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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