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Commissioners front up to Tauranga challenge

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Trying to ensure New Zealand’s fastest-growing city starts to act like it after years of neglected investment is a basic but pointed objective for Tauranga’s city commissioners.

Lead commissioner Anne Tolley says the city’s “arteries are clogged”, and the commissioners intend to instil true governance to the city.

She and three fellow commissioners have outlined the plans they have over what they say at this stage will be a short 18-month tenure (ie, until the next scheduled election to replace the ousted Tauranga City Council) to jumpstart neglected capital works and development plans for the city.

Her declaration that she and fellow commissioners will never be seen disagreeing in public over decisions was welcome news to the Tauranga business community, frustrated by dealing with the publicly fractious councils of the past.

Considering the region as a whole

Tolley and fellow commissioners have vowed to lift the eyes of the city to consider the Western Bay region as a whole in any decision making, rather than the city in isolation.

Stephen Selwood, commissioner, and infrastructure expert, acknowledged the city has difficult challenges ahead in catching up on neglected development, which included both community and infrastructural projects. He was speaking at a recent session at Trinity Wharf Hotel to introduce the commissioners to the business community.

“The reality is if we do not invest in our city, we fail our businesses, we fail our families and we fail our communities. Because the city is the platform upon which we can enjoy life, we pay in other ways if we don’t invest.”

He pointed specifically to community facilities, roading and public transport as key areas needing immediate attention. “It is time for a reset and a refresh.”

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Cowley said business leaders were impressed with the level of honesty of commissioners’ responses to the concerns raised by the business community.

Still some major frustrations to unpick

“There are some genuine governance skills there that boost the confidence of businesses. There are, however, some major frustrations there that will not be able to be unpicked in only 18 months.

Businesses have found it easier to work with other councils that have a ‘can do’ attitude, compared to Tauranga, which has been risk averse. The commissioners took that on board.”

The commissioners’ first job has been to compile a long-term plan for the city’s development, with no small measure of catching up contained within its 10-year window.

Tolley told business leaders that in 30 years of politics she did not think she had ever seen a community so poorly served as Tauranga. “There is some catchup built into this plan. We have to ensure the community buys into this plan before we go.”

Easing the housing shortage

Key components of the long-term plan include easing Tauranga’s housing shortage, and providing for more than 9000 jobs between the city centre and Tauriko.

Improving transport and community facilities – including parks, pools and libraries – are also prioritised.

Revitalising the moribund city centre and encouraging private investment there is also a priority. The plan is open to community consultation through May, and aims to be adopted by late July.

Tolley says the city’s executive has acknowledged it lacked the capacity and knowledge to make the major capital upgrades that need to be made, and the commissioners were acutely aware of the tight 18-month time frame they had to operate under.

She urged Tauranga business people to think hard about the type of council they wanted to have in place, on their departure.

Cowley said the city is entering the most significant capital investment period it has ever witnessed.

Key projects on the priority list include a $45 million revamp of Cameron Road, $20 million invested into water treatment, and several million into building greater climate change resilience into existing infrastructure.

“Most businesspeople are looking at this as an investment, and that starts with confidence in the board, this showed there is confidence, but a lot of work is still to happen.”

Read more | Business operators optimistic on commissioners’ appointment
Read more | Commissioners get straight down to business

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