'Active Thames 2018'
Friday, August 29, 2014 at 12:27PM
Bill Barclay

Readers, long used to my carping criticism of the Zoom Zone project led by Mary Hamilton may be surprised to hear that I have finally come to the conclusion that their plans are now ‘on the way’ with the launching of Active Thames 2018.

The full-page advertisement that appeared in today’s HH sets out the plans of this group, and details the success they have had in getting sponsors on-board for the four year journey towards achieving the skate park, the Zoom Zone Dry-Court, and the Multi-sports clubrooms and grandstand at Rhodes Park.

This is an impressive and ambitious project that has evolved from the original Zoom Zone indoor gymnasium though the need to combine the three projects, and prioritise and rationalise the fund-raising arrangements. Altogether, a remarkable achievement, for which Cr Diane Connors in particular is deserving of considerable credit.

My previous criticism and now reservation remains – in particular, the delaying of consideration of the need to replace the Thames Centennial Pool before its deterioration leads to the need for it to close. Conflicting engineering reports have not assisted in determining exactly when this is likely to occur, but it is generally agreed that its economic life may not extend beyond 2020. Should it have to be closed before the town is psychologically prepared for a further major ‘donation hit,’ Thames residents may have to prepare themselves for a very long pool-less period.

And the continuing reluctance of Ngati Maru to use the facility that was built over their objections on land considered wahi tapu can no longer be regarded as of little or no significance. The patience of this Iwi has been stretched as they have had to watch children miss out on swimming lessons and recreation as a result. This alone should have caused the Board and Council to think seriously before committing the TUGPRA account to the Active Thames 2018 project, but unfortunately ignored. The new era of co-governance may bring about a different range of priorities.  

I have always taken the view that the majority of rate-payers of this town have at all times expressed the view that the primary need has been the renewal of this pool, and that the only likely source of funding for such a major project was the Thames Urban General Purpose Account that has been slowly been building up – currently around $4m, and preserved for the pool project.

For those who are unaware of the origin of this account, it exists to retain the income from leased farmland at Te Aroha that was originally given to the town as a source of income in the absence of rates in the late 1800s by a munificent Government. There has been substantial tension over a long period of time as Mary Hamilton and her cohort have vied for access to this funding that in reality belongs to every rate-payer.

Swimming club supporters have always appeared uninterested in this attempt to subvert the fund – the capital amount can only be spent once, and in the face of Mary’s determination, there was only one likely outcome. I bow to her superior advocacy – the new group have secured Thames Community Board and the Council’s agreement to access the majority of these funds for her Zoom Zone Dry-Court, and that that is that. All this has happened despite Board Chair Strat fretting over the  swimming pool, and the depletion of the TUGPRA accounts.

With the very clever combination of the three projects, obfuscation has prevailed, and it has not gone unnoticed that the full page advertisement reveals nothing of the access that the group has gained to the TUGPRA Account. Many older residents who have long been aware of this nest-egg and the need for it to be retained for the purpose of replacing the swimming pool may indeed be dismayed at this turn of events, but there is not a great deal to done in the circumstances.

The Zoom Zone group, under its new guise of ‘Active Thames 2018’ have really won the day, and have clearly been remarkably successful in tying down significant sponsors for what is admittedly a rather small proportion (about $500k) of the total $7m triple project.

All I can say is “Good luck” – I will contribute, other than as a rate-payer of course, but look forward more to the fund-raising effort for the swimming pool - a project I consider of far greater importance than any of these undoubtedly worthy, but to my mind, less important projects. Less important particularly in the light of this town’s increasingly aging demographic, and now diminishing financial resources. 




Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (http://billbarclay.co.nz/).
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