Opinion: Time for action rather than feasibility studies

By David Porter

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How many feasibility studies does it really need to create a vibrant city heart for Tauranga? Photo/File
How many feasibility studies does it really need to create a vibrant city heart for Tauranga? Photo/File

How many more feasibility studies does it really need to create the vibrant city heart Tauranga residents have been promised for many years? The answer, quite simply, is none.

The reality is the hard work has mostly already been done. Council officials are understood to have already undertaken detailed business planning to create proposed new amenities, including a museum, a new performing arts centre, a future-proofed library and a refreshing of the downtown empty lot into a civic square.

However, the council has created the perception during its current consultation process that it is more interested in creating a lavish new civic administration building for itself than pushing ahead with the amenities.

That, in my view, is not the case. But it is a real concern that a number of Priority One board members came away from their recent council briefing on the issue feeling that the civic amenities were low on the priority list.

Many also felt the council had not seriously taken on board the private sector's willingness to become involved in developing the new civic centre building on a lease-back basis, thus lifting some of the burden from the ratepayers.

In its submission, Priority One praised the council for its bold, innovative and aspirational approach. But it urged council to reconsider its priorities, with a view to bringing forward the proposed amenity projects under strict timelines, noting they would add substantially to Tauranga's economic development. The submission emphasised the council should consider options, such as the third party build and lease of the administration building, or community bond issues, that would support council's ability to progress an array of amenity-based projects.

The main reason for the confusion over council's priorities is that under the Local Government Act, the council is obliged when consulting with ratepayers on large capital projects to record the proposed new assets as being debt funded.

Key officials are understood to be more than sympathetic to the concept of using private sector capital to free up the council's balance sheet to help create the civic amenities the community wants, and which are less likely to attract private capital.

However, they have so far failed to clearly communicate this to the business community.

The overwhelming thrust of the submissions on the long-term strategy is understood to favour getting on with creating the amenities.

It is time for our politicians to support the broader civic amenities development package. To do otherwise risks pushing the development into that never never land of ever more feasibility studies.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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