Many aspects of the recent public meeting in Tūrangi stood out, but if there was one thing overall that struck me as I walked in, it was this: community. This truly was a meeting of the Tūrangi community, and all the community. There were young and old, Māori and Pakeha, rangatahi and retired people, all in that one room for one reason: because they care.
That's one of the often overlooked strengths of a small town. It is small enough for people to know each other, to know their town and to unite for a common cause.
Compare that to open meetings in Taupo on issues of public importance and the demographic is overwhelmingly skewed towards older people, who also tend to dominate debate on community issues.
Read more: Tūrangi locals want action on rundown town
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You could argue that council meetings are mostly held during the daytime which makes it hard for working people to attend, and that's certainly true. But a public meeting last October on the proposed cultural precinct project in the Great Lake Centre, although it drew a crowd of several hundred, again featured an audience of the mostly grey haired. Younger people are just not getting involved.
Compare that to the meeting in Tūrangi, which had all ages and included an opportunity for young people from the Tūrangi Rangatahi Hub to have a say. As well, there were business people, iwi leaders, parents and grandparents, workers and volunteers, all present and all taking an interest.
Although some of the councillors looked understandably a little nervous at the start, and although people in the audience were clearly more than ready to hear some explanations, the mood never got ugly. The people of Tūrangi were courteous and let the councillors and the council staff have their say, while making it very clear that they wanted change.
They do have a point. Zane Cozens of the Tūrangi Action Group told the meeting that in submissions to the Long Term Plan last year, 97 were from Tūrangi and none were taken on board.
A look through the final adopted plan shows that although there are many district-wide projects which apply to Tūrangi as well as to Taupo, Kinloch and Mangakino, there are few targeted at Tūrangi. It lends weight to the argument that the southern end of the lake is being overlooked.
Councillors listened, and many said they were pleased that people were taking an opportunity to raise local issues, and disappointed that they felt Tūrangi was not getting a fair go.
At the end of the meeting, although they have to go through a formal council approval, two things were agreed: that the council would open the books to a forensic accountant who would look at how much money was being raised in Tūrangi-Tongariro and where it was being spent, and to consider an amendment to the Long Term Plan to include more Tūrangi projects. They have been given three months. They will be on notice to deliver.