In her recent talking point "New Pool Complex No Vanity Project", acting mayor Faye White argued the benefits of the council's new pool complex on Prebensen Drive.
On behalf of the Friends of Onekawa Aquatic Centre which has taken a court case to stop that proposal, I feel I must respond.
Firstly, I want to get one thing straight. No one is saying that the Onekawa pools at present are fit for purpose. They need an upgrade. Everyone has known that since 2015 when the Napier Aquatic Strategy was completed pointing out limitations over lane width and pool depth.
Pool users get frustrated trying to find a lane to swim in, competing with swimming clubs and schools for space. With that in mind, in June 2017 experts retained by the council put forward four options to expand facilities at Onekawa ranging from "no frills replacement" including a new 10 lane 25 metre pool, to full redevelopment of the site with both new 25 metre and 50 metre pool options to consider.
The cost of these options ranged from $19.5 to $38 million. The council consulted the community extensively in August and September 2017 and 84 per cent of 2010 responses received favoured the 50-metre pool option.
At no point was any risk of redeveloping Onekawa based on historic site contamination raised by either the experts or the council as part of this process. In November 2017, the council resolved to promote development of the 50-metre pool option for Onekawa as part of the 2018 Long Term Plan process, in light of the overwhelming support received for it.
Our court case is about what happened next. In the space of just four months the council decided not only to abandon the 50-metre pool option, but to close and demolish the Onekawa Aquatic Centre, and build a new $44m pool complex on an entirely different site at Prebensen Drive. We cannot say too much about this publicly while the court case is looming.
Suffice it to say we think that the council's process in approving this, council's largest ever construction project, with an unprecedented level of external borrowing, $34m, which ratepayers will have to pay back over 30 years, was seriously flawed.
A judge will have to finally decide that, but in the meantime whether ratepayers agree with Ms White that this is not a "vanity" project will no doubt be decided by them in the October elections.
What I really want to take Faye White's Talking Point article on about is this. She said that the council was not prepared to risk community health from digging up contaminated soil on the Onekawa site, noting a Plunket and kindergarten located there. She says "we need to accept unbiased advice rather than thinking we know better".
The simple fact is the council has never done a single study to confirm the actual cost and risks of building any of the pool options being considered at Onekawa. Not one. No existing reports show the council was ever advised of the types of risks Ms White referred to in her Talking Point.
Reports received by the council after it decided to abandon Onekawa through the Long-Term Plan state, and I quote, "The known contamination at the Onekawa site is not particularly great, and the on-site risks during construction should be readily manageable."
They advise that suitable health and safety measures to protect contractors and the public can be employed if contaminated soil is uncovered.
We are delighted that all of the candidates running for mayor in Napier have now declared "time out".
We as a society do not want to waste ratepayer money on a 50-metre pool that Napier does not need either, nor on a court case funded by ratepayers on both sides. We truly believe that much greater value for ratepayers and swimmers of all kinds can be achieved at the Onekawa site, with all the benefits of modern design Ms White refers to. The options for Onekawa presented by the council's own experts show you could get the same number of lanes as now proposed for Prebensen Drive, for about half the cost at Onekawa.
I record here in public that we would be willing to call "time out" on our court case if the council would agree firstly to do a quantified study of the actual risks and full lifetime costs to ratepayers of the same or equivalent pool facilities at both sites so that a proper comparison can be made. This work would need to be done by independent experts with the assessments fully disclosed to the public.
Then, the views of the school, swimming, and other communities of Napier that use and so value the Onekawa site as a convenient location where kids can safely walk to learn how to swim, would need to be sought on what is the best option of those so far considered, with all of this information to hand.
With their input received, the council could make the final decision, which we would totally respect at the end of the day.
Through a lot of cost and hard work including by our lawyer Martin Williams, we have managed to drag the council kicking and screaming to the table to agree not to let a construction contract for the new pool complex before the main court hearing on September 30, just two weeks before the election.
As a result, the opportunity is there for the council to now show true leadership, and commitment to democratic principles. The decision to go to tender for the pool contract was not decided by a majority. In fact, it was a tie with Ms White exercising a casting vote.
Napier ratepayers deserve better so come on council, step up so we can all ensure and agree the best option for Aquatic Centre redevelopment in Napier without what should be an unnecessary court case wasting time and even more ratepayer's money.
* John Wise is an executive committee member for Friends of Onekawa Aquatic Society Inc.