On Tuesday at our Napier City Council meeting, we councillors have the last opportunity to put the brakes on the $50 million Prebensen Pool project by pressing pause on the sign-off until after the Local Body elections.
To have an almost 50-50 split of councillors on the site and on the money being spent on our biggest ever capital works project is ominous as it reflects a city divided.
7000 signed a Save Onekawa petition and presented it to us; most if not all the people I've spoken to in my ward want us to keep and develop the Onekawa site and not have us spend $50 million on what they consider to be an extravagant Aquatic Centre sitting out in the middle of nowhere.
I recently ran into a friend who worked at the Onekawa Aquatic Centre for years before moving away, and when I told her that the Onekawa pools were being demolished to make way of a new one on Prebensen, her face dropped. "But that would destroy the community!" she blurted.
Of course we have been reassured there will be lovely play equipment, free family-friendly facilities and picnic sites, and a splash pad will be built over the demolished Onekawa centre. The problem is, you can't learn to swim in a splash pad.
And with our high drowning statistics in Hawke's Bay, that's sad. In fact, last year's drownings nationwide reduced, while in Hawke's Bay and the Bay of Plenty, drownings increased.
We also sometimes forget, in our deliberations, that Napier is not a rich city. 23.4 per cent of our residents are low-income (in comparison with 18.7 per cent nationwide). Our unemployment is higher than the national average.
Underneath Napier's glittery veneer of Art Deco and cafes and wineries is an underbelly of poverty and deprivation. Will our neediest communities be able to easily cross the motorway to get to the Prebensen Dr Aquatic centre? And when they get there, will they be able to afford to get in?
I applaud our staff for the great work done to put this project in front of us, they couldn't have done better. We can't blame or criticise them, especially since it was us around the Council this table who made the decision.
I believe we took our eye off what the people were saying what they wanted, and instead opted for a beautiful $50 million state of the art 21st century aquatic centre that offers everything.
Everything except a community to wrap around it. A community such as that which embraces and is deeply connected to the Onekawa Pools.
A community that extends not just to the Onekawa Shops, and the closest schools, but across much of Eastern Napier. It is that community which will lose their centre and access to their special character much-loved pools.
If Council had received a petition of more than 7000 in favour of the Prebensen site, and if 10 or 11 councillors had voted for it, then I'd say the people have spoken.
But with our divided community, and our hair's breadth majority on council, I would say we don't have a mandate, we don't have our people with us and should push pause until after a new Mayor and Council – those who will have to progress the Prebensen Dr project – is elected.
Maxine Boag is the Nelson Park Ward Napier City Councillor