Locals says Tūrangi is in desperate need of an upgrade. The Taupō District Council says it's listening and taking action. LAURILEE McMICHAEL went there to see for herself.
When former academic Doug Stevens moved to Tūrangi 18 months ago to work full time on his website nzfishing.com, he says he was shocked at the state of the town.
Disintegrating kerbs, broken fences and crumbling and outdated sports facilities all contrasted unfavourably with those of his previous home, the upmarket Wellington suburb of Khandallah.
But Stevens chose to settle in Tūrangi because he says being able to fish the Tongariro River minutes after walking out his door has been a lifelong dream, and any lingering doubts were dispelled by the warm welcome he received.
"I love where I live. It's a beautiful community, it's extraordinarily friendly and I've really enjoyed it because in a big city you don't have the ways of actually getting to know people like here."
Keen to see an improvement in Tūrangi's facilities, Stevens recently agreed to become chairman of a local lobby group, Tūrangi Action Group (TAG).
The group formed in February after local real estate agent (and former Tūrangi-based Taupō district councillor) Zane Cozens and two other locals, Christine Dally and Antoinette Kereopa called a public meeting to discuss the their concerns.
The mayor, councillors and council staff attended, along with a crowd of around 300.
At the meeting, mayor David Trewavas and councillors acknowledged that some of the town's infrastructure urgently needed addressing and agreed to a some of a list of demands by TAG.
Those included an audit of council accounts to see where money raised in Tūrangi was being spent, the development of a master plan for the town and the appointment of a locally-based Tūrangi community manager. A further request, for a dedicated $20 million fund for Tūrangi, on advice from Local Government NZ, was ruled unlawful.
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But the council rejected that Tūrangi was not getting its fair share of council spending.
A meeting that occurred three months later revealed that while some of the actions had been progressed, others had barely moved. The relationship between TAG and the council was said to be partly to blame.
Enter Doug Stevens, who acknowledges the relationship between TAG and the council was so bitter that it was becoming difficult for the group to move forward.
Stevens and another TAG group member, Sheree Winter, took the Taupō & Tūrangi Weekender on a tour of Tūrangi to show the state of the infrastructure. Broken fences at the back of the town centre, kerbs, pavers and streets in disrepair, outdated playgrounds and piles of rotting leaves all added to a general picture of the town's malaise.
The unsafe netball courts and ageing pavilion were a sad sight.
The only places for events to be held in Tūrangi are at the Senior Citizens Hall and the town gymnasium. The hall recently had its walls repaired and repainted and heat pumps installed but there is a dead tree stump and a dilapidated tree outside.
• Comment: Time to work together for Tūrangi
Winter says the council just doesn't seem to care about keeping the town's facilities up to scratch.
"There's just no ownership, there's no care, there's no love."
Sport is one of the main ways that Tūrangi clubs and whānau keep their children active and the town produces a lot of promising young sportspeople, but trying to keep some sports alive is proving a struggle.
The Tūwharetoa Southern Tribes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club had to move out of rooms it was using at Tūrangitukua Park after they were deemed unsafe, and spent months searching for a new venue. The council-owned town gymnasium has a beam through it that makes it hopeless to play basketball in. The most recent blow was when the council recently decreed that the town's crumbling netball courts were beyond repair and too unsafe to use.
Replacement is on the cards, but will be included in the planning for a new sports and community hub for the town, which is due to begin shortly.
Winter says the council is failing its responsibility by not providing basic, fit for purpose facilities for its people.
"We just want to have netball courts that kids don't injure themselves on, basketball courts that don't have a big beam through them.
"We'd like to see an events centre, a community hub, a place where there can be cultural events, sports, gatherings, conferences, it becomes a centre for the town."
The council acknowledges that Tūrangi's facilities are failing but says a major part of the problem is that most things in the town were built at around the same time — in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Now, they are all falling apart simultaneously and repairs or redevelopment has to be staggered over a number of years.
Stevens says it was the announcement that the Taupō District Council was building a new civic administration building that really got Tūrangi locals riled.
"What the catalyst really was was that we've been asking for this assistance for a long time and then there was the announcement of this multi-million dollar council building and when that was announced it lit the fire in no small way. It was an in-your-face.
"We are the second biggest town. There are other towns and we are conscious that we can't just fix our stuff and just think everything's all right, we really to want to have a look at what those other towns get as well and what we're asking the council to do is very basic."
The council has been taking action, some of which it says was planned before TAG went public with its concerns.
It has replaced 4.5km of water pipes, is looking at options to upgrade the town's wastewater treatment plant, re-roofed the arts centre, repaired the Senior Citizens Hall, installed a climbing wall at the Tūrangi Turtle Pools and is working to progress the Tūrangitukua Park sports centre.
Council chief executive Gareth Green says the three main requests from Tūrangi in last year's Long Term Plan submissions were for a sports hub at Tūrangitukua Park, an events centre in the town and a new landmark i-Site/council building.
The council agreed to the first two, but not the third because both the i-Site and the council building had recently been renovated. It has however budgeted to replace the i-Site's leaky roof.
The council has set aside $50,000 for the design of the Tūrangitukua Park sports hub building and $585,000 towards its construction. It has been holding talks with local hapū Ngāti Tūrangitukua, which owns the land.
Green said the council, Tūrangitukua and park users had got to "a really good place" about where the new building could potentially go.
In the meantime, the council had spent $250,000 on temporary changing rooms at the park until the sports building is constructed.
He said with designs, tenders, consents and building, construction of the new sports centre was at least 12 to 18 months away.
The council has also been working with Tūrangitukua on a reserve management plan for Tūrangi over the last two or three years which is in draft form, Green said.
The council had not done much work on the events centre before the Long Term Plan requests but after submissions, $50,000 to investigate such a centre was included in this financial year.
It could be included in the next Long Term Plan process, which begins in early 2021.
"We'll then know who much it's going to cost and we can put that money into the plan. We have no idea what's going to be needed until that work's done."
Green acknowledged the timeframes for both projects were not as fast as the community would like.
"When you talk about the complexity of land ownership and tendering, regulatory process, that's as fast as we can do it."
The Long Term Plan also included funding for a destination playground, a new entranceway for the town which is yet to be defined, and other items including kerbing and infrastructure upgrades.
The PriceWaterhouseCoopers review, budgeted to cost $16,500, was in response to concerns about where Tūrangi rates were being spent. Green says locals asked for a retrospective review of what Tūrangi contributed versus what was spent over the last decade.
PWC was also studying what is forecast to be spent in Tūrangi over the next three to five years.
The review is expected to be completed next month.
Three weeks ago Stevens told the Taupō & Tūrangi Weekender that he felt the relationship between TAG and the council was not so bitter that it could not be repaired. He met with Green and other council staff last Tuesday and came away feeling that a positive relationship could be established.
Stevens and Green intend to meet regularly to discuss progress and Stevens says he plans to hold the council to account as well as pressuring them to move more quickly.
"Yes we still have our differences and we're angry and the community is really upset about the lack of facilities," Stevens said.
"But we can build this, we can get around it."
Tūrangi-based councillor Tangonui Kingi, who is standing for council again, says TAG is full of people who want to see the town move forward and the last few months has brought the community closer.
"There are some significant challenges for our community and there's also some significant opportunities and it's all about bringing that together," Kingi says.
Those calling for change need to put themselves forward for election, because the place to achieve it is around the council table.
"Throwing stones is one thing but being a part of the process is another."