Commissioner on Tauranga’s crisis point – ‘It’s worse than I thought’

Tauranga City Council commissioner chairwoman Anne Tolley thought she was prepared to deal with the city’s issues but has since revealed, “it’s worse than I thought”.

Tolley was joined by fellow commissioners Bill Wasley, Shadrach Rolleston and Stephen Selwood in the council’s second formal meeting for the year yesterday.

As part of the meeting, the commissioners and staff held a public workshop to discuss issues that likely need addressing in the draft Long-term Plan 2021-2031.

In the meeting, several senior staff referred to a consistent lack of investment in key amenities and infrastructure projects and revealed saturated roading networks or deteriorating facilities and housing supply as a result.

Outside the meeting, Tolley told the Bay of Plenty Times the assessment of the city’s situation was “very sobering”.

“The level of service is way down the bottom and community facilities; this is a major city in New Zealand and yet the last major facility built was Baypark (in 2005). So an enormous effort is needed, on behalf of ratepayers, to bring that up to standard as well as being able to design around the growth that’s happening.

“Tauranga will continue to grow, that’s made our job terribly difficult.”

When asked if she was surprised by what staff had presented in the meeting, Tolley said “yes, it’s worse than I thought”.

“I knew there were issues but I didn’t realise how widespread they were.

“We’ve got to make some hard decisions. These decisions, many of them should have been made 10 years ago but we will make a start.”

Wasley said not only did they have to play “catch up” with several city issues but they also needed to cater for the city’s growth.

Rolleston agreed that “yes, we have to catch up” but the city also needed to think about what the community needed in the future.

Selwood said Tauranga was paying the price of past inaction.

“Too often, I think, the decisions that were made in the past has been focused on financial dollars and not enough on what’s the payback, the benefit to the community.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had so much underinvestment, we are now in this situation. Now we are playing catch up. We all have to face up to that. I think that is an important thing for everyone to understand; It’s time to draw a line in the sand and start to invest now and in the future.”

In response to the commissioners’ claims of underinvestment, former Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said it was not the job of councils to put into growth infrastructure.

Brownless reigned from 2016 to 2019 and said such funding should come from developers.

“Plenty of money has been collected by rates. I think the issue is more of ‘who should pay for that growth’ and in my opinion existing ratepayers should not be plundered to pay for growth.”

Stuart Crosby, Tauranga mayor from 2004 to 2016, said he would like the opportunity to sit down with the commissioners, in response to their comments.

“They’re getting a lot of information in a short period of time, but they weren’t there. They didn’t know the information we got or why and how we made those decisions.

“My analysis is the decisions made up until probably four or five years ago cater for growth and that’s obvious by the growth that has happened.”

Speaking as president of Local Government New Zealand, Crosby said the issue of a community’s capacity to pay had become a nationwide one.

Additional reporting – Leah Tebbutt

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