put a few questions to Rotorua's only new district councillor Raj Kumar.
-Tell us some things Rotorua people might not know about you?
I'm married to Jagruti Patel with three boys aged 21,18 and 15 years. I was born in Suva, Fiji, but I call Rotorua my home. Being in All Black country was like a kid waking up in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.
- You've owned the Springfield Superette since 1999 - what have been your biggest business achievements and what business skills do you think can be transferred to council?
I've been involved in the grocery retail business all my life, as well as hospitality, having also co-owned the Nandos chicken franchise since I bought that concept in 2007. I'm no longer a part of it, but it was an interesting five years giving me a good insight to both retail and hospitality. We introduced the $2 coffee and it became an instant hit. My biggest achievement was opening a restaurant (Nandos) right at the beginning of a recession and managing two businesses together, and surviving the hard times. I hope I can bring some good business skills to my job as councillor. These include my daily contact with community members and knowing how to put a strategy in place.
- What is it about Rotorua that you love and what made you decide to settle here?
I bought a business here initially and found a business within our budget. We just embraced this place. We had another kid born over here. We loved the shop, the area and the people were really kind to us. My wife found a job in travel and tourism and loved it. It just became home.
- If you could achieve one thing on the council this term, what would it be and why?
I'd like to see inner city dwelling as we have lots of unoccupied offices which are not suited for retail or required for office capacity. This will boost the hospitality industry, give ailing landlords a better return and ease the rental crisis the city is facing.
- You've mentioned you'd like to see a free bus service circling the inner city - tell us more about this idea and how you plan to progress it forward.
The free bus idea is an example of the Melbourne tram system that makes a loop around the city. It allows people to free park outside the city area and get on and off wherever they want within the city, thus enabling them to stay longer and shop in comfort plus eat in cafes and restaurants without worrying about parking meters and wardens. I would have to sit down and talk with the mayor, put a proposal forward and consult businesses in town.
- What youth issues do you think need to be addressed in Rotorua?
The city used to be filled with youths who were especially flocking to the main bus stop as it was right opposite the Work and Income office. This became an eyesore so work was commissioned in the city to deter them from loitering by changing sitting and the bus stops. However, driving the idle and bored youths out of town is not the solution. They will only create problems in the suburbs out of boredom and mischievousness.
- You've said you would like to see more done for the rural sector - where does your passion for the rural sector come from and what do you believe council can do better for the sector?
When mayor Grahame Hall was in office the rural community was well represented. Also, we saw no one from that sector standing at all. On the campaign trail with the RDRR it was clearly evident that they had been largely ignored. They have roading issues, the rates need to be reviewed and a connection with the Lakes Council made.
- How important is it to have cultural diversity on the council and what sort of impact do you think your selection will have?
I represent the people at large and do not want to be labelled an Indian councillor, although I am very proud of my Indian heritage. This will allow me to bring a different thought process as well as a diverse cultural introduction to the council team.
I pretty much shoot from the hip and am not afraid to speak what I think. I'd like more transparency from the current council towards the media and the people of Rotorua.
Like I said before, I'm thankful for this opportunity and want to serve the residents and ratepayers of Rotorua well. In looking at my job profile I see lots of council meetings on Thursdays (there goes my golf day). Anyway, I've always said I'm a good listener and I've developed this skill well from listening to my wife. Now that I'm here with everyone's support I am ready for the job.