Tauranga Council commissioners spell out reality of infrastructure underinvestment

7:23 pm on 30 March 2021

A Tauranga City Council commissioner says the fast-growing city will pay in other ways if it does not invest in infrastructure.

lights of Port of Tauranga ships and harbor at dawn with golden glow of sun on horizon.

Boats moored at the Port of Tauranga in the dawn light (file image). Photo: 123RF

Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta decided to appoint a commission in December last year after an independent review found significant governance problems within the council.

The team is chaired by former National MP Anne Tolley.

She is joined by former Infrastructure New Zealand chief executive Stephen Selwood, Resource Management Act and Māori engagement expert Shadrach Rolleston, and town planner and former chair of the Smart Growth regional planning forum Bill Wasley.

The commissioners were tasked with nursing the beleaguered city back to health after years of quiet dysfunction behind the scenes of the council was compounded by public infighting among elected members last year.

This morning, the commissioners fronted for business leaders during a hui facilitated by the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce.

Tolley said the city had a population of 150,000 and was the fastest growing in the country. It also had the largest port in the country, which was key to the economy of the wider region.

"Tauranga City is the heart of the Bay of Plenty. On arriving here, we discovered its arteries are clogged and need a defibrillator."

A lack of infrastructure investment had been flagged as an issue by neighbouring councils, with a previous Tauranga City councillor admitting that public backlash was one of the reasons rates were not increased to facilitate growth.

Tolley was shocked by the lack of investment in the city.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley.

Anne Tolley. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"In my 30 years in politics, I don't think I've ever seen a community that has been so poorly served with their community facilities. I could not believe the lack of investment."

The commissioners were preparing the city's long term plan (LTP) for the next 10 years.

Tolley told business leaders that the LTP would seek to catch up on past under investment in community facilities, such as parks.

She said it would also facilitate future growth by investing in vital infrastructure, such as roading and water pipes.

"No matter what happens, this city will continue to grow," she said.

Tauranga ratepayers are facing a proposed 12 percent rates increase, while the commercial rate differential is due to increase from 1.2 to 1.6.

Commissioner and infrastructure expert Stephen Selwood said no-one wanted to pay more rates, but there was no alternative.

"The reality is that if we don't invest in our city, we fail our businesses, we fail our families, and we fail our communities. The city is the platform on which we enjoy life - we pay in other ways if we don't invest," Selwood said.

Underinvestment would show in a variety ways, such as inadequate community facilities and clogged transport systems, he said.

"All of those issues are costs we pay in another way."

Commissioner Shad Rolleston said Tauranga City needed the support of neighbouring councils to tackle some of its pressing issues, such as a lack of land for housing and commercial development, along with the tick of approval from businesses and tangata whenua.

Commissioner Bill Wasley echoed that, saying different entities needed to have the attitude that working together was the path to success.

A business leader asked the commissioners what would stop another dysfunctional and inexperienced council being elected once the commissioners handed the reins back to elected members in October 2022.

Tolley said that concern highlighted why the LTP was important.

Many planned infrastructure projects would not break ground for a few more years, but those plans needed to be set in stone so that the brakes could not be hit, she said.

"It does weigh heavily on our minds that we have a short time to bring about some major changes."

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