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Thames Urban Development Strategy

Strat has staked his reputation on this new strategy, I would have to say that it ticks all the boxes on the right hand side of the page. As for the left, I think we will need to wait and see just what happens when it gets further up the line.

At this stage it is still 'draft', and goes to another TCB/Focus Group workshop shortly. Hopefully a final document will emerge from that - they were still working on the draft up to noon today, and the presentation was disconnected from the document in such a way as to raise doubts as to whether the consultants are both singing from the same sheet - several mentions were made of 'creative tension'. Chris Moller of CMA+U and Michelle Berry (I think!) from The Cranleigh Team made the presentations - the former did the Vision and Urban design, and the latter the Strategy. So far so good!

There is no doubt that they have undertaken a massive task putting it all together and that it will come out as a fine glossy, feel-good document that will most likely be well received in a town that has been suffering angst, or stagnation - that is certainly how it is perceived by the consultants. Strat was keen to tell us that it represents the vision that he has had for Thames since day one on Council, but I just don't think even he could have dreamt up some of the vision that was presented to us today. On the other hand, it did seem to tie in with the “Charette” organised back in January. Interestingly, very few of the Focus Group people were present yesterday, and I am left wondering what that indicates? 

It is not that the projects, time lines, funding, strategies and plans as presented are far from the mark of what is required - they are probably spot on - I am certainly not qualified, nor wish to comment on the detail of what was presented. All I will say is that my overall impression was that what we were looking at lacked appropriate scale - these consultants are clearly highly respected and have produced brilliant work for other cities, even towns, but even they appeared to be struggling with the scale required for a town of this size, and with its resources. They did indicate that they had had to scale back to achieve synergy with their brief - clearly, earlier work was even more ambitious.

Moller in particular grated with me at the emphasis he gave to the advantages to be achieved from going all out for a major hit on all levels - he is obviously not keen on the piecemeal approach. He does not seem to quite appreciate the financial position of our Council, and although his colleague was savvier, in that regard, she too showed a less than full appreciation of our predicament, particularly since Whitianga has scoffed the entire available resource of the Council. It was appropriate that she drew attention the "relatively high levels of deprivation, low levels of education, low income and an above average dependency on benefits."

In contradictory fashion, she then went on to suggest the Thames "had the ability to transform itself into a knowledge-centric, skills intensive economy." There are plenty of other similar aphorisms that give rise to scepticism - a reaction that was deplored by both Chair Strat, and Chair of the Focus Group - John Sinclair. I apologise in advance to them both because they have invested a huge amount of time, energy and effort to get this document on the table. But  while accepting that it may well provide a blueprint for the next 20 years development of this town, I retain a what I believe is a healthy scepticism based principally on my horror of  seeing a substantial hit on rates in this town just as has now been approved for Whitianga.

To get down to the nitty gritty - what they are suggesting is a CCO (Council Controlled Organisation) delivery vehicle with an unstated number of employees who would be charged with "prioritizing, investing in, and strategically managing the building blocks needed for long-term prosperity." It would be "dependent upon a mandate that allows it to optimise and leverage the assets that are, or can be owned/controlled/influenced to create packages for development." And "Cash-flows will only be generated when property transactions begin." But accordingly, "a source of capital will be required during the early stages of joint venture development, where a cash negative model is not appropriate."

The only such source is through our rates I am afraid, and our consultants are understandably reluctant to put a figure on it. In other words we are being invited to buy "a pig in a poke”, in committing to a CCO for Thames. I cannot help but think that the statistical evidence referred to in the document indicating  the heavy imbalance towards people over 65 in this town of 7,000 souls, and its many beneficiaries have been dis-regarded in the interests of producing a document that reflects the vision of the its main instigators. I just don’t see how you force-feed a town of this type into a 21st century go-go urban stereotype that is suggested within these pages. This towns main sub-groups are unlikely to be thrilled at the prospect of substantial rate increases to match the demands implied with the implementation of its recommendations, and the current mood within Council is not conducive to providing an easy road towards any type of Council funding – borrowed or otherwise. Talk of “private/public” partnerships and similar is just that – talk!

Briefly, the top priorities are the Northern Gateway around the Queen St/Pollen St Fork (don't you like it?) to be done in consultation with iwi - that seems wise, and an opportunity to pre-empt iwi objection right from the start - a large gate or carving (possibly a representation of Chief Taipari who gave the land for Thames may be appropriate?).

The second item relates to the Grahamstown Heritage Precinct which seems to revolve around the Placemakers site. They  may have some problems there (as elsewhere) as to the suitability of this site for any type of development. Geotechnical and hydrography reports were not part of this teams mandate, but they will be needed, and may not be to the liking those who have placed so much of their hopes on this site,  encouraged by its erstwhile owners, or would be owners, of whom Mr Bruce Oliver appears to be to the fore.

There is pressure to seal a deal in regard to this stite as there appears to be an option in place that runs out early in the New Year. Connors seemed particularly anxious to re-site the I-Site there, but she met wish 'push-back' on that score from Ms Berry who seemed aware of the Connors/I Site connection, and was not keen on responding to such a bid at this time and in this venue.  

The third precinct is promoted as the Regional Cultural and Commercial Hub around the environs of the Civic Centre. This involves the replacement of the roundabout with lights (3 sets in all on Queen St.) and the movement of the library into this precinct, and development of a substantial business facility incorporating Council services  on the Council owned site. I cannot imagine what happens to other current uses of this site, but as I said I don’t wish to get into detail here, and may be doing the writers an injustice. But there are certainly grand plans for this area. The catchy phrase is “Thames – Open for Business.”

The third  also incorporates a housing precinct based on the land land purchased by the Council form the bowing club for a carpark. The multi-story unit would provide the catalyst for other housing suitable to cover some of the needs of Auckland. This and other plans for the redevelopment of Council and Housing NZ owned pensioner housing units into ‘better’ accommodation for our older citizens appears to predominate in the plan – I hate to use the word “ghetto”, but that is how it appears at first glance, both in regard to the bowling club, Queen St. and Grey St units that appear to be replaced by multi-story units in these plans – wow!

The fourth and final precinct would be the sports and recreation hub now planned around Danby Field – indoor hard courts, swimming pool, youth zone and re-development of the Gold-fields site.

That is it for starters – there is much more, but they appear to have concentrated on these four concepts/precincts for the short to medium term.

It is challenging and visionary – I certainly give it full marks for that, but I belive that it is ‘over the top’ for this town, and that the $90k could have been better spent on something much less visionary, and possibly more practical for our needs. I over-heard John Sinclair say to someone that “there will always be knockers.”  Well that is true John, and I guess that I fall into that category in your estimation, but time will tell whether your vision as revealed in this document is acceptable to the population of Thames, apart from a few who always tend to get excited in these situations.

I feel sorry for those who have children growing up here for whom they would like to see employment opportunities opened up, and for them to be attracted to stay here through the provision of superior recreational facilities, but I truly don’t think that this plan will meet those needs. Certainly not with the economic base the town currently enjoys, and is likely to enjoy far into the future.

Basically, it is a retirement town with some ancillary activities and functions. It simply does not have the wherewithal to become the vibrant whizz-bang commercial, industrial, educational and recreational hub that is envisaged in this document. It is time that people accepted that a population of 7,000 (65% on benefits) with limited educational status, just does not cut it. When will people (Strat in particular) finally accept this and get on with their lives and stop spending our money on their pipe dreams. .       

If I am wrong Strat – prove me wrong – no-one would be more delighted that I were you to  manage to make this baby fly. In the meantime, I promise you that I will be an interested observer.




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Reader Comments (3)

my mind is not what it used to be but I seem to recall some 4 or 5 years ago attending a workshop about Thames under the banner of a Blueprint study -[ I think Bill that you and Strat were on Council then??]
There were groups of Council staff, Iwi, elected representatives and many members of the public drifting through- all contributing, bouncing ideas off the consultants, talking directly to Iwi and coming up with some form of consenus.
After a few months a very nice document emerged and I believe at the launch night at the Civic centre it was lauded by all and sundry, Iwi, Transition Thames group, public and elected representatives alike.
Wonderfull concepts around walkways, throughways, heritage areas, future developement and so forth. From memory the treatment of Pollen Street was parallel parking, a median strip down the middle [planted with trees and with safety transition points so people could cross the wide street]- intrepetive plaques re history, marker poles describing the Iwi history, small roundabouts on each intersection, [removal of the jungle bars there now] - the whole concept to slow down thru traffic and to provide a peaceful, pleasant place to shop and mooch about - absorbing the history of the place. Also the area between Rolleston/Edward/Sealy Street was to be zoned high rise housing area - based on the precept that people in Edward St. would not have their view impeded but residents would be handy to the main work areas, Council and the Hospital [that was before Leach took a knife to staff numbers at Council].
The area by the the coastal walkway would be kept clear of developement - except that 'excercise stations' would be established alongside in certain places- after all it was described by the then Deputy Mayor when declaring the walkway open that is was a 'green medicine area' and so it now seems to be with people streaming along the path most hours of the daylight time, with the Burke St. refuse area [the old dump] being set aside as a recreational area with the all the riverstone etc. that are stored there from flood cleanups being pushed out to create a bird roost area and an area set aside for a BMX track and an off the leash dog exercise area.

SO anybody, what happened to the much vaunted [and expensive] Blueprint plan - anyone know??

What we have proposed now [this is what happens when every three years we elect a new lot of earnest representative who always know best], is a most fanciful proposal that is straight from another world. Heaven forbid, three [yes 3 ] sets of traffic lights on Queen St., the removal of pensoner housing replaced with high rise buildings, gone is the little museum [cnr Cochrane/Pollen St.], the removal of the library from its current place [and to sell the building] , re position the library in/around the old RSA building - the 'new busines hub' -a swimming pool and gym in the Mall [has anybody discussed this with the Mall owners who are anxious to sell for $10m plus] - a concentration of tourism at the old Placemakers yard-- should be interesting - in the draft document it will cost $20k to relocate the i-site alone. But wait there is more --photo voltaic panels on A & G Prices /Toyota buildings so they become self sufficient in power!! - wait there is more -- small hydro schemes in the Waiotahi/Karaka/Moanatairi Streams - and wait for it - wind power turbines in the hills and on pg. 30, tidal power options [maybe they should have included those in the new Kopu Bridge design] all so we [read Thames] don't suffer like they did in the Eastern seaboard of USA when 'Hurrican Sandy' hit there last year taking the power out [amongst other things] - wait there's more - pipeing hot water down Pollen St as part of the energy axis - give me strength.
Over the years I have been involved in commenting on various concepts BUT nothing as fanciful as the Thames Urban Develpoement Strategy- this little excercise has cost US in the region of $90ks - but I cannot find one practical idea or anything that would now or in the future benefit Thames - where did Strat Peters/ John Sinclair/Stakeholders [ the last mentioned are not named- I would be too embarased too if I was a stateholder in this sad unrealistic document]
Why do we as ratepayers put up with these wild flights of fancy - the consultants must have struggled to put anything on paper- they surely must feel embarrassed with what is between the covers of volume one and two -- [and receiving payment for the same ??]--- most of the photos are of areas/ sites overseas - what does that tell us??
Thames is an old historic town founded on mining and kauri tree milling, with a some industry, A & G Prices and Toyota the last renaments of industeries that built such items as trains and put together cars from CKD kits. Milling has long gone, mining is unlikely to make a come back - the town is a service centre pure and simple and is becoming a dormitory town for the rapidly growing Auckland and a town were retirees will gravitate because of our wonderful hospital. Such way out ideas as proposed in these documents need to be thrown out along with those elected representatives that lorded over them. Pull out the Blueprint plan - look at it with some less jaundiced eyes- in particlar the heritage aspects - the $90k would have almost put most of those ideas into place --instead all we have for the money is a wacky way out document.

Bring on the elections in Oct. - hopefully a NEW board can put some practical commonsense into this folly before we as ratepayers once again find ourselves on the wrong side of the ledger and have commissioners put in place -- look back in history when the town borrowed to put in a a fanciful wharf/ and other sundry projects- borrowed heavily and when the wharf failed [silting problems] the town was declared bankrupt!!
Grand and not practical ideas have failed before and if we push ahead with the suggestions in these documents we will find ourselves, I fear, in the same predicament - I sincerely hope not

May 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRtrd. Planner

This sounds like someone who knows what he/she is talking about, and has access to the 'draft'. He/she has gone into the detail that horrified me and that I thought best left until publication so that people could see that I was not exaggerating.
I wish more would come out of the wood-work and raise voice in regard to this well-meant, but pathetic and expensive exercise in futility.

May 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

stone the crows Bill - I have just come across another page in Volume one --01.02 B -pg. 42---- all about building 72 residential houses on the
'old rubbish dump' at Burke St.- a 'redevelopement of a brown-field site into housing + recreation'. That is 72 houses on a rubbish dump where Toyota buried many a car, hospital dumped its waste and industrial and commercial rubbish was spread about with gay abandoned along with household refuse. Have any of the stakeholders/chair/ Peters been down when the compost in the transfer station is wet and savoured the smell which emanates from the the large heap of rotting material, or heard the sound of glass bottles being dumped into bins or the noise of large vehicles/machinery onsite [starting at 0700 hrs most days of the week], or seen the rubbish which blows out over the security fence --I doubt it. More importantly, would any of them live there -I doubt it - so why even suggest the idea ? And what about the recent trench that was put in to capture the underground methane gas [whoops there's a potential source of power generation they missed] and the 4 large galvanised pipes with spinning tops put in to disperse the afore mentioned gas??

But Bill here is the kicker which proves this study [albeit in draft form - but not likely to be rewritten after being workshopped] is a sham, meanlingless document that cannot be taken seriously--- the 'old dump' was covered with material, if I am not mistaken, from the same source as the adjoining Moanataiari housing area, which is it not, under the micrcoscope for the potential of containing arsenic and other dangerous elements ??.
Not surprised the release of these documents have been delayed - had they been released in April we may have thought they were an April fools joke - the contents are almost laughable if it wasn't for the fact it has cost ratepayers $90k

One other noticeable omission in these documents- is the the ignoring of Kopu in all of this - or do they not see Kopu as part of Thames. I was aware of a very big study conducted by the last Council which noted suitable industrial areas and possible housing areas - which I would have thought would be some of the solution to many of Thames problems re housing and lack of industry [read jobs] -and with an smidgen of luck these areas will be in the new District Plan - unless the Board has scuttled these as well
Also why the leeming like rush to relocate the i-site to the Placemakers yard when the previous Council advocated a Discovery centre in conjunction with DOC out by the Kopu Bridge, on Crown land by the roundabout - though I note in your blog Bill that Cr. Connors has made coment on this matter - I hope that is not the case- possibly one could form a connection here about a conflict of interest with regards to the i-site matter and the councilor.
thanks Bill for drawing this study to our attention - I am to afraid to read much more of these documents- I cannot believe the naievety of those who were involved with it - would love to know who the stakeholders were just in case some try to stand for election later this year- people with this kind of thinking do not deserve to represent us on Council/Boards !!

May 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRtrd. Planner

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