Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Local Elections 2016: Stuart Crosby exit leaves race wide open

The exit of long-serving mayor Stuart Crosby has created a wide-open race for Tauranga's top job.

Whoever wins the chains must tackle the same giant issue that's always faced the seaside city: its relentless growth.

Over recent years in particular, Tauranga has been riding an upward trend on almost all fronts.

The local economy has been growing (up 3.6 per cent on last year), as have house prices (up 23 per cent), tourist numbers (up 5.7 per cent), traffic flow (up 7.9 per cent), retail spending (up 6 per cent) and net migration (doubling to 1126 new residents each year).

Building consents similarly jumped 45 per cent and the number of house sales soared by 34 per cent.

Fuelling the growth is a strong primary sector, a productive port hub, a solid city economy and an influx of business and new locals, fundamentally a result of Auckland's overflow.

"If you look at our history, this city has been growing since the early 1900s, from very much a sleepy little port town through to one of the largest cities in New Zealand," Crosby said. The enduring challenge was to manage this massive growth in a way that was sustainable: a term the city's outgoing mayor considered to be at odds with the rapid house price rises seen in Tauranga over the past 12 months.

He said whoever succeeded him would have to carry on the city's growth-management strategy, which targeted Papamoa and Pyes Pa/Tauriko as the two main expansion points, and balance the cost of providing the required infrastructure with rates and other revenue sources.

Tauranga City Council has forecast its staggering debt to increase to nearly $400 million over the next year.

But Crosby, who has long advocated the servicing of debt to be spread over generations of ratepayers, saw no reason for the future mayor to hike annual rates by anything more than 5 per cent in coming years.

The big short-term issue, meanwhile, would be what shape the city's civic heart took.

Councillors have been thrashing out options including a new civic administration building, museum and library complex and further waterfront development.

Unlike vibrant Mt Maunganui across the harbour, Tauranga city needed a "shot in the arm", said Crosby - something he said the city's emerging younger demographic of ratepayers would be demanding.

He separated the field of 11 mayoral candidates into two packs, "contenders and pretenders".

Crosby singled out Kelvin Clout, Greg Brownless, Max Mason and Doug Owens as front-runners in the mayoral race.

Tauranga

Current mayor: Stuart Crosby, outgoing

Number of enrolled voters 2016: 91,322

Voter turnout last election: 38%

- NZ Herald

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