Is the council failing to listen?

By John Cousins

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Tauranga mayoral candidates Kelvin Clout, Max Mason, Graeme Purches, Murray Guy and John Robson. Photo/file
Tauranga mayoral candidates Kelvin Clout, Max Mason, Graeme Purches, Murray Guy and John Robson. Photo/file

Strong concerns are emerging that the council's civic centre redevelopment options will not deliver what the public really wanted from a new heart for the CBD.

"If ever there was a case of the tail wagging the dog, this is it," mayoral contender for October's council elections Max Mason said.

With less than a fortnight to go before submissions closed on the civic options proposal, Mr Mason said there was a world of difference between what the public wanted and what the council had delivered.

"While the council was talking about a 'civic heart', the public have heard 'city heart' - they are very different concepts."

Consultation earlier this year on what a civic heart meant to the community and what the council needed to do to invoke pride in the city centre had generated an array of great ideas from 2000 people on how to create a vibrant city centre, he said.

"But the council proposes a plan which has only 10 per cent of what the public asked for."

Mr Mason said it was a classic case of the council failing to listen to the public and doing what it intended all along. Instead of giving the public what it really wanted, the council had delivered an office building and thrown in a few feasibility studies to make it look good.

Mr Mason wants the council to scale back the $64 million cost of the office building, include "real amenities" to revitalise the city centre and develop an integrated plan of what the city centre would look like in the future.

Former city councillor Larry Baldock questioned where the rest of the money would come from for the other projects if the council built its own building first.

Mr Baldock, who is running a 600-person survey this month on the mayoral candidates and prospective candidates, said he would also put in a question about the civic heart development.

The prospective mayoral candidate said he was concerned about the narrow range of options and the huge cost for a new office building.

His alternative option was to spend $17 million renovating the newer buildings in the civic block and put the rest of the money into a new library and museum instead of a new administration building.

The newer buildings at the Wharf St end of the block included the library, customer service centre and civic chambers. He suggested the current library building could be redeveloped into a new administrative centre for staff.

"Like many people who heard of the civic heart project, I thought we were looking at a museum or library or both."

Comments from other mayoral candidates included: Murray Guy: "We should be going out with a blank sheet of paper to achieve the best outcomes for the community. There are options that, for whatever reason, this council refuses to explore. The designs don't capture our unique culture and partnership with tangata whenua."

Graeme Purches: "The council needs to do a better job of consulting with the public. Having a vision of where we are going in the future is the key. A 20-year vision would make it easier to explain these projects."

John Robson: "Speaking personally, I am not comfortable with what we are consulting on. The feedback I am getting is that it looks like a done deal. My feeling is that we collectively [the council] got to a starting point, we had to start somewhere, but now the conversation was kicking in we need to have a long and deeper conversation with our community. I would like to see the consultation period extended. Some people wanted this done and dusted by election, but they are naive."

Kelvin Clout: "We have not pre-determined the outcome. We will treat all submissions seriously, so it is definitely not a done deal. We need to give due consideration to amenities [like the museum] being put ahead of the council office building. If there was a significant public desire to have a museum and new library put ahead of a new administration building, then I would take note of that."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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