Time to crack on with infrastructure

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By Garry Webber,
Mayor, Western Bay of Plenty

In early February, when I was asked to speak at the 2020 City Leaders Lunch, COVID-19 wasn’t on many people’s radar. However, by the time of the event, March 20, it surely was and when I was asked to pen this update for the Bay of Plenty Business News on April 17, its full impact had really hit home.

The nation and our region has been dealt a body blow that is going to be felt for a long time, despite the encouraging news the lockdown is being gradually eased.

Our council is working really hard to identify the part we can play in the national process of rebuilding communities. Since central government announced its $50 billion funding package, our staff have worked tirelessly to submit a list of 16 projects at a total cost of $515 million bid to the Crown Infrastructure Partners Fund. That bid is testament to our commitment to help provide an immediate stimulatory kick start effect to our local economy.

For each project to be considered, we had to show that it would create local jobs, was shovel-ready, would provide a public benefit, modernise the economy and be worth at least $10 million.

As a well-managed provincial council and member of the SmartGrowth group, the Western Bay of Plenty District Council is recognised as well-managed and has a track record of working constructively in partnership with others.

Additionally, our bid is part of a coordinated Bay of Plenty regional package that will support the economic recovery of New Zealand. The projects are consistent with our Long Term Plan, the SmartGrowth Strategic Plan and Urban Form and Transport Initiative (UFTI). Together they aim to deliver a step change in housing, transport and place-making for the sub-region’s communities.

Our top priority is the Rangiuru Business Park where we have applied for $134.8 million to open up the fully consented 148 ha Business Park, which will create economic opportunities for many years to come. It is significant in size and ready to start.

Second, is the Regional Healthy Housing Programme. This is an extension of the Healthy Whare project, which will allow more homes to be upgraded to be healthy, affordable and secure homes.
We have also applied for just more than $100 million for the Katikati Bypass, which is designated and we have done a lot of analysis on over the last four months

I’m hopeful that we will be successful, but I am also a realist and accept that we are competing with every other council, hospital board, education dept and private business and therefore nothing is in the bag. Accordingly we have not made any promises to our communities to avoid over- promising and under-delivering.

If successful in part and linked with the earlier announced $900 million Tauranga Northern Link, it would be a huge win for our district and will ensure that those who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 will have an opportunity to get back into the workforce quickly and productively.

As Rahm Emmanuel said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”, and it would be remiss of our council not to be part of the COVID-19 response that this government is offering to fund.

At SmartGrowth we have been working on strategic projects to lift our district out of its housing and congestion issues for more than 15 years. Now with this funding support from government, the time is right for us to throw of the shackles and take those brave decisions. It won’t be easy, but it is the right thing to do.

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