Our Youth

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Our youth are important to our future. Whether youngsters, teenagers or 25 year olds, we must consider what they want and need to stay or attract them to Whanganui.

I don’t believe our Council has considered their needs enough except the 100% Sweet Programme – those without a job or in study.

We have young teenagers wanting things to do after school and in the weekends, youth needing jobs or training and young professionals needing to connect with others of their age and interests.

Council needs to be a facilitator and as Mayor I’ll work with our businesses, associations and clubs to look at:

1.    Apprenticeships and training thats affordable.

2.   Sporting events to engage younger people.

3.   Activities such as a climbing wall, indoor activity centre including bowling alley and a   temporary iceskating rink in winter.

4.   Cycleways and tracks.

Together as a community, we can do this. I’d love your ideas as I know this list is not exhaustive – its just a place to start.

VISION

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A Mayor must have a strong vision for the future of the District. Council has a vision of Leading Edge, but I’m not happy with that – its just not specific enough – it doesn’t hone in on our unique qualities that will set us apart from the crowd. Its a competitive world out there and unless we work to our strengths we will be anonymous.

Heritage

Its clear to me that our heritage buildings are our singular unique visual feature that we must preserve. If we lose those buildings we lose our character and we’ll be just another rural district.

We have one of the best preserved CBD’s in New Zealand, and the wonderful landscaping created by local Architect Bruce Dickson is coming into its own. Tourists just love our buildings and are frequently seen snapping away. We can make more of this feature by encouraging our building owners to upgrade and upkeep those frontages – see my article under “Goals” for more information.

Building on our built heritage we offer great heritage tourism, both on the Waimarie and other river boats, a genuine cultural experience on Marae up and down the river, our Regional Museum, Sarjeant Gallery and the Alexander Research Library.  Heritage tours, behind the scenes at the Opera House or a wonder around our monuments and sculptures tell a story of huge interest to visitors and we are not taking advantage of these existing assets.

Sports and Adventure

Our sporting facilities and easy access to a river and sea are huge attractors for events and adventure sports. We should be seen as the best regional centre for sports and adventure in New Zealand.

Arts

Artists are flocking to Whanganui to live and with our beacon Sarjeant Art Gallery we have the highest number of active artists per head of population compared to any other centre in New Zealand. We are affordable to live and work and many internationally renowned artists are based here. Where there are artists, people follow.

Boutique

We’re small, we have all the natural and built assets found in bigger and more renowned centres and our quality of life is second to none. Our boutique shops thrive on visitors. We must promote this more.

Quality of Life

Our river, beaches, cycleways, airport, hospital  and being the closest NZ city to a skifield give us a huge advantage over other centres to provide quality of living. Not only that, we are an affordable place to live. Despite the common myth that there aren’t jobs, there are great quality jobs. I constantly hear from employers they cant get the right staff. Many of our businesses are in expansion mode and we are crying out for more retailers with the passion and a bit of cash to set up new businesses.

Friendly

We are incredibly friendly. I’ve really noticed how often I say hello to people on the street and get a friendly response. Where else does it happen that complete strangers great each other on a daily basis?

Improvements to Basic Services

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I’ve been meeting with community groups and retailers and its clear from feedback that you want better basic services such as:

  • Another public toilet in the Avenue – preferably in the 4th block – where the eateries are.
  • Curbside recycling.
  • More pedestrian crossings, especially for our young or less mobile folk and our increasing numbers of elderly including across Taupo Quay near the market and across Gt North Road on St Johns Hill near the dairy.
  • Improvements to footpaths in poor condition due to tree roots.
  • Trees trimmed where leaves cause constant gutter clogging.
  • A review of parking times in the Avenue – 1 hour is just not enough.
  • Tight controls on dangerous dogs and barking nuisance.

A parking review is just getting underway and we’re toughening up on bad owners of dogs but improvements are still needed. I’m taking your suggestions seriously, I’ll be lobbying for these in the next Annual Plan round.  If there’s anything else you want to add, let me know.

 

Business Friendly

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I’m very disappointed that Council hasn’t finalised a workable business friendly policy to date, despite being a recognized priority.

This MUST BE SORTED EARLY IN THE NEW TERM. Business brings jobs, money and new residents, and thereby helps to bring vibrancy and reduce the rates burden across all residents. So what’s gone wrong?

With some exceptions, including Whanganui & Partners, I believe there is a fundamental lack of understanding of what “Business Friendly” entails. Council is generally inward looking and more familiar with writing policies and making rules, than creating business opportunities.

I’d suggest the following as a start:

Strategy: Growth in population and business is recognised as the most important item on Councils Agenda!

  • The Rates Cap reduced from the current 5% increase per annum, to 3 then 2% within 2 years and the CEO tasked with finding savings with a more effective staffing and a reduction in non-essential work that has little effect on growth and essential infrastructure.
  • A Development Champion appointed to work with developers and the Building Control team to remove fussy, expensive and unnecessary building compliance requirements.
  • Timeframes for approval and the cost of resource and building consents must be reduced.
  • Rates remissions and no building consent fees for new unique retailers and businesses with 3+ employees.
  • Increase the limits on Council’s existing Procurement Policy so that more Council contracts are placed locally.
  • Local firms must always be given the opportunity to at least quote on Council contracts.
  • Councillors and staff need a bi-annual bus ride to businesses, farms and suburbs to find out what their issues are!
  • Media campaigns separately targeting quality retirees and young families looking for quality of lifestyle, as they require good housing and use services thereby bringing employment.
  • In partnership with business and farming, support a technology and creative hub to encourage technology and agri based business development.
  • Supporting educators, businesses and farming in trades training and work preparedness to keep our youth and ensure they have the staff to expand.
  • Rejuvenate our CBD by encouraging the development of inner city living, office and retail growth with rates remissions to redevelop heritage buildings and a contribution to keep the heritage frontage.
  • Finalise Council’s Policy on the sale of council owned land so business can make expansion decisions.
  • Develop paying events and tours that attract national and international tourists such as more sporting regattas, a West Coast Arts & Heritage Trail from New Plymouth to Wellington, and behind the scene tours at our major cultural institutions.
  • Continue to lobby under the Regional Growth Study and Accelerate 25 plan to ensure we maximise our opportunities but also to build our own opportunities as the Growth Study is fairly narrowly focused.
  • Work more closely with our farmers and businesses to encourage product development utilizing the services of BCC and other development agencies.
  • Support Port development potential.
  • Ensure our roads are adequately funded and are protected from logging damage.
  • Ensure major transport routes and modes are effective and efficient for rural and business growth.

That’s a start but not the end. I’ll be insisting that the Business Friendly Policy is a top priority in the next term.

The Past & Next Three Years

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In the past three years Council has completed a number of projects to improve the District – here are just some of them:

  • The net Debt level has reduced by $18million over the past three years ending 30 June 2016 due to $8 million from the EDNZ sale, $2 million from our debt repayment levy and the balance from other sources and efficiencies driven through the organisation.
  • A new CEO has been appointment and is restructuring Council operations and is already bringing savings to significantly reduce projected rates increases.
  • Our population, jobs, house prices, tourism and business confidence are all rising for 2 straight years in a row.   The District’s total Capital value has grown by approximately $100 million in three years – largely due to new developments – not just revaluations.
  • Sealing of the Whanganui River Road is complete which is improving tourism access and volume.
  • The new community glass facility will open in September 2016 securing the long term future of glass art as a unique feature of Whanganui.
  • Sealed and redeveloped the Taupo Quay river front area which is becoming a popular tourist destination.
  • Relocated the Sarjeant Gallery  to Taupo Quay to safeguard the $30million national and international collection in preparation for the redevelopment of this 5% earthquake prone building.
  • The Alexander Heritage Library has been fully earthquake strengthened and the valuable collection of heritage books and documents are now protected from atmospheric decay due to a climate control system funded from Lotteries grants.
  • The Royal Opera House has been earthquake strengthened and upgraded for fire protection.
  • Council has put in enormous efforts to recover from the devastating floods of one year ago, including road rebuilding. NZTA now has responsibility for repairing state highway roads and the riverbank.
  • A Town Centre Regeneration Study has been completed and action is being taken to attract new retailers into the CBD. Retail is constantly changing and the available space has been expanding with new buildings rather than shrinking. Animates Pet chain are building a new store on the cnr of Dublin & Victoria Avenue and Wallace Developments are undertaking a full redevelopment in the second block, retaining the heritage frontage and all new stores are already under contract with new tenants.
  • The Wanganui East swimming pool is being maintained and slowly upgraded.
  • The recycling centre has been relocated and upgraded to better manage recyclable materials, in partnership with local Iwi and with government waste minimisation special funding.
  • Formal partnerships are established with UCOL and Whanganui Iwi to grow support for education and employment. UCOL has made a significant investment in upgrading their three heritage Design & Arts buildings.
  • A new blueprint for the Port development has been completed and the No 1 wharf has been rebuilt together with the slipway. The Government has announced $500,000 funding for a comprehensive feasibility study to assess the full potential of the port area including an expansion of the marine industry and ferry proposal by Neville Johnson. Q-West Boatbuilding have also confirmed their long term future and expansion.

We’ve also approved and budgeted for a number of significant projects that will be completed within the next three years including:

  • Even with all these significant projects, our new CEO is positive he can bring rates increases within the 2%-3% range – a fantastic achievement and an exciting future for Whanganui.
  • The Mountains to Sea national cycleway of significance extension from Upokongaro to the city is in final stages of planning. A Three meter wide Cycle/walkway from the city bridge to the North Mole and Cycle/walkway from the City bridge to St Johns Hill via St Hill Street are underway.
  • Sarjeant Gallery Redevelopment project is confirmed and fundraising  is well underway, with over $20 million raised externally already.  The Gallery should reopen in late 2019 – the 100 year anniversary of the Gallery with $5 million investment from rates and $27 million funded from donations and grants.
  • A Wastewater treatment plant will be built– see my news item on this important issue. All wastewater industries currently operating in Whanganui have confirmed their commitment to staying in Whanganui with the AFFCO group exploring their own options for treatment – as they do elsewhere.
  • The International Flight School has been purchased from Fielding and is to be relocated at the Whanganui Airport – helping to boost the finances of the airport and attract NZ and international students.
  • The Airport Control Tower is being supported to assist its external waterproofing to supplement the significant funds raised by the Airport Control Tower committee.
  • The Mills Road to Heads Road water catchment area is to have significant drainage work undertaken to prevent future flooding risk.
  • The Regional Growth Study and resulting Accelerate 25 Project is underway which will support developments in agriculture, honey and our port including marine industry – its just a start!
  • The Whanganui Regional Museum earthquake strengthening project is just getting underway and will be completed by the end of 2018. This will include rejuvenation of the interior with supplementary funding from lotteries. The nationally and internationally significant collection is valued at $30million and the building is less than 3% of current earthquake code!
  • Council has funded $200,000 toward upgrading the Castlecliff area and is working with the community to realise their dreams for the area. The Surf Life Saving club and Rotunda will benefit also.

Sustainability, Protection and the Environment

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  • Our Storm/Flood and Civil Defence preparedness needs will be better supported. ACTION: Appropriate staffing in place and a review of the robustness of our  underground pipe network and culverts to cope with increasing rain and flooding events. Are minimum building floor heights adequate?
  • We must stop pumping raw sewerage and dangerous chemicals directly out to sea, poisoning our sea life and beaches. 5 years is enough!! ACTION: We will build a cost effective and affordable plant within the next three years.
  • Kerbside recycling. ACTION: We will re-evaluate by year 3 of my first term.
  • Plastic bag free. ACTION: Work with Sustainable Whanganui and our retailers to a goal of plastic bag– isn’t that the least we can do for our kids?
  • Rural Road support: ACTION: Support to protect rural roads from excessive logging and flood damage. Lobby Government to increase their roading subsidy that is currently decreasing.
  • Rubbish bins. ACTION: Bins need boosting in the urban and rural areas to cope with overflow from tourism and innapropriate dumping.
  • Council Investments: ACTION: Sell Forestry investments when prices are high.
  • Debt: ACTION: Continue our sinking lid policy on debt.
  • Trees in the urban environment are a source of pride, beauty and distinguish us from other centres. The trip hazard and drain issues caused by roots and leaves must be constantly addressed.  ACTION: Ensure trees continue to be a priority in the Tree Strategy, but are also practical and appropriately placed, renewed and maintained. Broken footpaths around tree roots will be evaluated in this upcoming term and a repair plan committed to.
  • Street lighting is a major energy user. ACTION:  Roll out of LED replacement will continue over the next several years.

Buy Local Policy

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In 2014 councillors discussed a Buy Local policy to  give some recognition to the economic impact local purchasing can have on the economy.  The law governing Local Government requires Council to purchase goods and services at the most economical return for ratepayers funds. Technically therefore this prevents councils paying a price above the cheapest available just to give the contract to a local suppliers.

On the face of it, this is sensible, but since Council is the biggest business in town, this means a huge amount of money can leave the District and severely impact our future economic health.

Despite the law, Council agreed a 10% premium on local contracts up to $100,000. Its not a lot, but it is a start. We encourage contracts to be placed with local suppliers and generally speaking this is happening as long as the price and quality match.

I have been concerned that library books have been purchased out of town for some time and am looking forward to local contracts being offered to local suppliers in the near future as Council reviews its existing contracts. With purchases in the region of $300,ooo over annum, this is a considerable spend.

Updated: 26 August 2016

Development Friendly

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I watched with sadness as the character office building of Moore Stephens Markhams was demolished on 2 August. Whilst not listed on the District Plan or Heritage NZ as a heritage building, and therefore protected from demolition, it was charming and a nice set of 4 on the corner of Wicksteed and Plymouth Sts.

I met with owners and Council’s planning team this week to better understand the issues that forced demolition and their plans for a replacement building.

Despite investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last few years and having replacement aluminum windows on order, all that was wasted when explorations into earthquake strengthening costs, unveiled a serious rising damp and rot issue within the walls of the building. The high cost to rectify the damage, plus earthquake proofing the building which was only 19% compliant, put that option into an uneconomic zone. Reluctantly the partners faced the unpalatable decision to demolish and start again.

Their new design will be sympathetic to character features of the old building with a similar tiled roof, bricks and roughcast finish, but with modern functionality and design. Our meeting this week explored their new design and restrictions under the District Plan, which weren’t sympathetic to their need for more office space and an attractive street frontage. The planners were able to provide flexibility in Council’s policies so they could achieve their commercial requirements and give a pleasing aspect to the street. It was a win win but highlighted to all of us that if discussions were held before the plans were drawn up, a great deal of lost time, cost and hassle would have been avoided.

People naturally avoid Council as they are concerned at the annoying rules and costs of complying with red tape. However the Planning Department are practicing business friendly approaches to development and practical solutions. By engaging early, developers are achieving better and more affordable outcomes. If you are considering a new commercial build, I’d urge you and your designer to contact the planners before you start drawing up your plans – you will be pleasantly surprised as long as you don’t want a cheap and nasty box!!

I am also available anytime to discuss your plans and help where I can.

 

Published 26 August 2016

Development Champion – CBD & Heritage

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Building brought back to original frontage

The images above and below show the difference once a full restoration of a building frontage is completed!

Several weeks ago I travelled to Dunedin to the Local Government annual conference and included a visit to their heritage precinct and talked to developers and staff at Dunedin City Council.

Dunedin has many old buildings, with large inner city blocks with decaying empty warehouses. These areas have looked sad for years and with earthquake awareness and expensive development requirements, they were standing empty. All this is in the past however and I was inspired to see the marked change underway with multitudes of buildings being redeveloped and entire areas coming alive.

Dunedin adopted a Heritage Strategy in 2007, which included rates remissions, building frontage grants and the employment of Heritage planner Dr Glen Hazelton to act as a champion between Council planning and building control and the developers.

The developers appreciated the rates relief and direct contribution to reinstate the frontages, but their main enthusiasm was directed to Glen’s work to find practical solutions so development was affordable. There is nothing nasty about any of the developments; in fact they are beautiful with inner city living in classy character apartments.

Dunedin undertook a similar study to our own Town Centre Regeneration plan, with the same consultants Urbanism Plus and whilst I had heard of Dunedin’s success I was rather cynical about the reality. What a pleasure it is to see their astonishing success. My discussions with their Mayor Dave Cull further confirmed that Council’s financial investment was very modest at only around $1million in all this time, and the result is hundreds of millions in private redevelopment.

I recently attended a discovery and planning meeting between developers, realestate agents, Mainstreet Wanganui, Council, Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust and the Earthquake Prone Buildings Taskforce. We are all working together to find practical solutions to creating the right environment for redevelopment in our own town centre and are hoping to host Dr Hazelton in Whanganui for his advice. I can only encourage Council to employ our own town centre champion to assist Whanganui’s redevelopment without delay.

Redevelopment of old buildings not only saves the wonderful character of our town centre it helps owners to realise value in their stagnant properties, attract great tenants on bottom floors and apartments on upper floors and bring economic viability and vibrancy back to our town centre. It’s a win/win.

Photograph of the building before redevelopment

Rates & Accountability

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Radical change is still needed at Council – and that’s what I’ll deliver together with our new CEO. Debt and rates are high and keep rising. We MUST CHANGE what and how Council works. I’ve got the drive and knowhow to lead that change, and I’ll take decisive action including:

  • A Mayoral Taskforce targeting a 3% rate cap (currently 5%) and even less in subsequent years. Due to the complexity of our operations and the proposed sewerage plant development, it might take two years to achieve all the desired reduction in operating costs. Savings will be achievable with Council concentrating on what we must do, instead of trying to do everything and unnecessary things that people don’t even notice!  The current staffing structure is also ineffective and staffing needs are now being reviewed. Our new CEO has confirmed he can achieve these savings and improvements in services, but it will take commitment by the Governance team and especially the Mayor.
  • Council must adopt a Strategy with key objectives against which all expenditure is prioritised – growth initiatives and essential infrastructure must be our top priorities.
  • Set high standards of accountability:
    • Councillors pay linked to meeting attendance and training early in the term.
    • Regular Mayoral public meetings and reporting against key targets
    • Assignment of specific roles to Councillors including bi-annual public meetings in assigned suburbs.
    • A two day response time to communications from the public.
  • A new Committee structure to ensure better informed decision making.
  • Councillors to receive Agendas 1 week prior to council meetings to provide sufficient time to understand and consult on complex issues.
  • There is too much of Council’s business being held in Confidence.  I’ll ensure all discussions are held in public, unless absolutely necessary.
  • No more surprise changes to street and place names. I’ll ensure we consult on any proposed changes – I’m not suggesting there are any more to come – but change seems to be constant these days, so lets get prepared!

Please read my other Goals and Press Releases to fully understand the full range of what needs to happen at Council if we are to achieve rapid growth and a sustainable Whanganui that our children want to live in.