John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Making Tauranga affordable high on new mayor's priority list

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Tauranga's new mayor has pledged to do his part to make Tauranga an affordable city for young people to raise their families.

Greg Brownless lost no time in identifying one of the most pressing issues facing the city, barely 24 hours after he triumphed at the polls.

His provisional winning margin of 1965 votes over runner-up Kelvin Clout has transformed his life and thrown him back into the hurly burly of council politics.

An hour before the news came through on Saturday that Mr Brownless had been elected mayor, he was balancing up whether to move the chicken coop or mow the lawns. Now everything had changed and reporters were seeking him out for comment on his vision for Tauranga.

Mr Brownless said his first priority was to create great living opportunities for young and old. "But we have got to try to make it affordable. If we can't, we won't get young people and their families coming here to do a lot of the work."

He wanted to make Tauranga a city that young people wanted to come back to once they had finished exploring the world. "We have to have a good balance."

Looking at the election casualties of Matt Cowley, Bev Edlin and John Robson, he said the council was a new brew that would have new ideas.

And although Larry Baldock and Terry Molloy were returning from previous stints on the council, he was reluctant to say the new council would hit the ground running.

"I have been away for six years and things do change quite rapidly. We will be refreshing our memories."

However he said they had the advantage of not being complete newbies. Even Max Mason, the only successful candidate without previous experience as a councillor, had seen up close how the council worked.

Mr Brownless said he wanted to bring more financial discipline to the council and for more business to be conducted in the open instead of in confidential briefings.

He also saw big risks in the "scatter-gun" approach of juggling a number of new projects at the same time. "What happens is that nothing happens."

Mr Brownless wanted to get things done one project at a time rather than endless planning and talk - preferably against a backdrop of knowing where the city was heading for the next 30 years.

As for the push for public/private partnerships, he said the jargon sounded good but he needed to be convinced that it would really work out cheaper for ratepayers in the long-run.

Mr Brownless said voters had given him a good mandate to go forward sensibly. "I don't want to be a do-nothing person, but not a person that breaks the bank."

Asked why he thought he won with such a healthy mandate, he put it down to being an all-rounder, not the best businessman and not the worst.

The former owner of Legacy Funerals who gifted the business to the community downplayed the part his philanthropy played in winning the mayoralty.

Mr Brownless thought it was more about him being well known around town and someone who talked to a lot of people. "Perhaps people feel a connection with me."

He characterised himself as sensible and not extravagant. "I don't like extravagance, people see me as an everyday person."

His high public profile was helped by his 15 years as a city councillor and as a performer for music shows and theatre. "I have even got to play my accordion . . . people like that, they identify with you."

Mr Brownless said his style was to talk issues through without confrontation. "I don't respond well to people that are confrontational. I believe there is always more than one point of view that could be right."

Another of his priorities would be to investigate alternative funding sources for the council, saying he intended to bend the ear of the Government and the regional council so that the cost of running the city did not fall on ratepayers all of the time.

Outgoing mayor Stuart Crosby said the new council was "on paper, quite a good council" but he was disappointed for the three members who did not retain their seats.

Mr Crosby easily secured a seat on the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in the election.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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