Last month we started to focus in earnest on the city’s draft 2024-34 long-term plan (LTP) and it’s already evident that there will be some tough calls for the Commission to make.
Since our last LTP, the cost of living has increased significantly and that puts even more pressure on us to keep rates costs affordable. From the Council’s perspective, increased construction costs, higher interest rates and the general impact of inflation on our activities mean that the cost of delivering the LTP adopted two years ago and maintaining our current levels of service has increased significantly.
We still need to invest in the infrastructure our growing city needs, and increasingly, in our resilience against climate change impacts such as the extreme storms, flooding and storm surges we’re experiencing across the country. We also need to be realistic about what we can afford to do in the current economic situation. That will require a tough reassessment of our priorities, with a focus on delivering the key projects now underway, like the Cameron Road urban transformation project, the Papamoa East Interchange and the work to revitalise our city centre.
Some of our previously planned capital investment projects will need to be refined or delayed, because capital does have a direct effect on our operating costs. That means some things we had intended to do in the next decade may have to wait a bit longer than anticipated, with our capital programme honed down to a level we know we can afford and that we have the capacity to deliver. The likely spend will need to reduce to around $400 million a year for the next few years, rather than the $500-plus million that would be required to deliver on all of the city’s aspirations and growth needs.
Of course we also need to maintain our existing assets and deliver the quality services the city relies upon, and while that requires ‘business as usual’ to continue, we will be doing everything we can to do more with the resources we have.
We know that this is a hard time to talk about the investing in Tauranga when the cost of living is at the front of everyone’s minds, but the reality is that we will pay in other ways if we don’t proceed with the infrastructure and facility improvements the city needs to stay safe and functional and be the great place to live, learn, work and play.
This underlines the importance of our discussions with political parties leading up to the General Election. The rating model is simply inadequate for a rapidly growing city, and together with our fellow metro cities, we continue to press for partnerships with central Government to fund growth infrastructure.
In the meantime, we look forward to bringing together the draft long-term plan and to engaging with the community and business sector later this year to check whether you think we’ve got the priorities right.
We’re planning to start the formal LTP consultation process in November, with submission hearings in December. Deliberations and adoption of the final LTP would then take place by April 2024, so that we have a resilient and workable plan in place ready for the next elected council to take forward.