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Community Board Meeting 30 July 2013

Yesterday's meeting was interesting for a number of reasons - principally because as the election approaches, members are anxious to ensure that their promises from the previous election are actioned before they commence a new campaign - and fair enough!

The major item that I will deal with in the next post relates to the Thames Urban Strategy, and the establishment of a Work Program for the remainder of the 2013/14 year - a major achievement getting it to this point, even if it has taken an inordinate time.

Community Sports Facility

The next important matter dealt with yesterday was "2013/2014 Project Definitions"  - That sounds pretty innocuous eh! But buried in that document was approval for expenditure in 2013/14 of $139,571 on "Community Sports Facility" - a euphemism for Zoom Zone Dry Court.

What interested me was that there was no break-up in the Project Definition that accompanied the paper as to how this $139,571 was to be spent. Greg Hampton pointed oiut that it was in fact spelt out in the Annual Plan, and represents the cost of obtaining an overall business case for the three projects – Skate Park, Rhodes Park Facilities and the Dry Court. What did emerge was that there was to be a closed door Workshop in the afternoon to discuss the matter. And I spoke to Steve Bramley in the corridor as he awaited the meeting. He is the principal of SGL Consultants who consulted for the previous Board (or rather for Zoom Zone - paid for by the Board), and whose CV in the webpage of the Fundraising Institute reads as follows –

"SGL Funding is an Australasian-based company which combines the principles of fundraising and leisure planning and, working alongside several local authorities, is developing comprehensive community-wide funding strategies. Also works with Community Foundations on endowment strategies, plus with District Health Boards on fundraising strategies.”

As indicated, Steve prepared the Business Case for the Zoom Zone proposal that was knocked back by the previous Council for a number of reasons. Suffice to say that in taking his instructions from the Zoom Zone people, Steve made assumptions about Council funding that were inappropriate. But with strong backing from the Zoom Zone people, certain councillors were elected on the undertaking that they would resurrect the Dry Court project. It appears that Steve has been re-employed to undertake the new business case – the two previous cases that related to different combinations of these projects and a new pool came to some $160,000.

The project was re-instated during the Ten Year Plan, and Annual Plan processes, but the funding arrangements for the $7m needed were not spelt out. But one undertaking given by the Mayor during the process was that no progress would be made on the project until there was an absolute assurance of 50:50 fundraising by the project proponents. This was emphasised again and again, and gave some comfort to those who had concerns about ratepayer commitment leading to increased rates to pay for a project that would likely benefit only one section of the population. This given added importance by the fact that it appeared that the ZZ group had been unable to raise one brass razoo to date, despite their claims of widespead support in the town - not a good sign!

My sensors were twitching yesterday when I spotted Steve Bramley, and realised that he was there to make a further presentation at the Closed Door Workshop later in the afternoon. And it seemed to me that there was an element of secrecy in the air that I have become attuned to. This was enhanced by a request from Strat earlier that morning to refrain from reporting a remark he had made regarding an Urban Strategy matter because of "commercial sensitivity". I reluctantly agreed, while pointing out that what is said in open meeting is "public" in every sense. These requests for secrecy are abhorrent in my view, and reflect badly on those who make such requests, even when cloaked in the commercial sensitivity mantle.

I phoned Greg Hampton this morning to enquire just how exactly the $139,000 was to be spent, and he pointed out that it was detailed in the AP as reported above. He further explained in general terms what had been discussed in the Workshop, but then asked that I keep the matter “under wraps” until after the next Board Meeting to be held on 10 September - one month prior to the election. I agreed to do so, primarily because I was only in possession of half the facts I was seeking at that stage. Given what I was able to glean from Greg, my view is that the conclusions (not decisions!) arrived at are quite disturbing, and contrary to all previous understandings regarding expenditure during the current and subsequent years on the Rhodes Park facilities, and in particular, the Zoom Zone Dry Court.

When one takes into account expenditure proposed on the Urban Strategy, and what is now on the table in regard to the Dry Court and Rhodes Park, it is no wonder that the details are being kept hidden for as long as possible leading up to the election. They do not equate with what has already appeared in the TYP and AP. They will need to be, and will be challenged.

If the Workshop conclusions that I suspect, based on what I was able to get from Greg are adopted intact on 10 September, then there is no way that Strat's promise to me and others that he will support nothing that increases Thames rates can be kept. Otherwise, the only manner in which Council will be able to fund these facilities will be through further additional borrowing. I guess that we have just grown used to this device being applied.

District Plan

There was a review of issues pertaining to the District Plan that raised a number of issues prior to it being bedded down in the next week or two, and going to public consultation.

Discussion revolved around two main issues - the Kopu Gateway, and Heritage.

The Gateway Project is now being serviced by a project team within Council. This is to deal with various questions surrounding zoning, and the development of the land either side of the access, and the "overall big picture strategy" - whatever that is! The big issue here appears to be the development of a Regional Gateway concept -  something that Connors is wary of because of the potential to sideline the Thames I Centre. Connors suggested that the plan needs to be able to fit in with the DP now rather than have to go back for changes later, but French was opposed to this because it could discourage developers. No real consensus was evident.

With heritage, questions remain in regard to the level of consultation now required., particularly on boundaries. Cr Connors indicated her belief that the only way to counter 'expert' advice that has determined parameters to date is with equally well qualified advice. That could be expensive for the Board or for individuals, but it left me at a loss to understand how people could otherwise object.  It seems very unfair if this is the case. Hammond raised questions about Kopu again, and the need to protect the industrial base. There was a suggestion that he has knowledge of industries already there being persuaded to move to Pokeno/Pukekohe, but was not forthcoming with detail. Any loss of business from Kopu could be extremely worrying.

There was nothing else of note that needs to be reported from the Meeting.



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