Council criticised over civic heart plan

By John Cousins

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PROJECT CRITIC: Tauranga developer Paul Adams fronting the area proposed for a new council office building and public open space.  PHOTO/FILE
PROJECT CRITIC: Tauranga developer Paul Adams fronting the area proposed for a new council office building and public open space. PHOTO/FILE

Tauranga City Council has been accused of ''empire building on a grand scale'' by proposing to spend $64 million on a new administration building.

The building was branded an ''ivory tower'' by three Tauranga property experts - developer Paul Adams, retired property valuer Graeme Horsley and lawyer John Gordon.

They said in a joint statement that the council was misleading ratepayers by trying to convince people that the new building would create the missing vibrancy.

Councillors were allowing political expediency to get in the way of the vision needed to bring vibrancy into the CBD, they said.

''We question the competence of councillors to be making such decisions that should be the domain of suitably qualified people. One of the problems with the council process is a lack of expertise and little knowledge of cost engineering and value management,'' the statement said.

The council's strategy should be to agree on the need for a vibrant city heart and pass the implementation and planning to a council-controlled organisation [CCO] that had the expertise to plan and implement the strategy, they said.

''The sooner CCO's and urban development authorities are formed to look after infrastructure, water, roading and buildings, the better the outcomes for ratepayers.''

They said ratepayers were being manipulated to approve a new office building without any commitment to addressing the real issue of vibrancy including a museum, library and sports stadium.

The council was making it look like a new library, museum and performing arts centre were included in the planned works whereas, in reality, there was only an ''excessively expensive'' new office building, they said.

''The other items are only paid lip service via feasibility studies as an inducement to ratepayers.''

They said it was unrealistic to expect that the real need to revitalise the CBD would be addressed inside 10 years. ''The building smacks of empire building on a grand scale.''
Planning for the office building envisaged higher staff numbers at a time when the council should be looking at efficiencies to deliver joint services. Leasing a new building would free up money to deliver a stadium, museum and new library in a short timeframe, the statement said.

Mayor Stuart Crosby criticised the statement as emotive and containing a number of errors. The council was consulting with an open mind on options for community facilities and the organisation's accommodation requirements.

He said the council was very clear on what it was consulting on. It concerned where it saw the priorities and what required further investigation. ''If the community has different priorities, then we want to hear about them through this process of consultation,'' he said.

No decisions had been made on the priorities or how or who would fund, build and own the facilities. Consultation material on the council's website was supplied by independent experts, Mr Crosby said.

City councillor Steve Morris said ratepayers needed to exercise extreme caution when weighing up calls for a rate-funded spend up on a rugby stadium, museum, library and council building. Whether a council building was owned by ratepayers or leased from a developer at a higher cost, it was ratepayers that ended up paying.

Cr Morris said council interest rates were significantly less than commercial borrowing rates. Another advantage of council owning its own building was the pressure it put on the city's debt limit.

''It forces council to focus on core infrastructure such as the Waiari water treatment plant so we don't run out of water pressure in 2020. This puts into perspective calls for a $25m rugby stadium for one extra game a year,'' he said

Cr Morris disagreed that ratepayers were being misled. ''Business always wants a say in politics. It happened last election too. What I find concerning is when developers who have a financial interest in the business of council seek to get candidates by way of endorsement onto council.''

Meanwhile, former Tauranga Mainstreet chairman Allan Gifford said the new council building was being benchmarked against the Trustpower and new IRD buildings which were valued at about $40 million each. He said the council building did not include garaging and land costs.

Tauranga civic issues campaigner Ken Evans said he was told by the council that the civic buildings proposed to be demolished were all structurally sound.
However he quoted a council building report which said there was a significant risk that liquefaction in a major earthquake may cause foundation failure, with the buildings unlikely to be usable.

''It would be madness to propose new buildings on land that is earthquake prone to collapse.''

How the planned council building stacks up against other new commercial buildings
Council's 8100sq m administration centre: $64 million
IRD's new 10,253sq m Cameron Rd building: $40 million (under construction)
Trustpower's 9900sq m building: Sold for $40 million
Source Allan Gifford.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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