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Waikato RC 'Cool Fund' Under Attack

Our Council may have thought that the proposed $19m Cool Fund in the WRC Long Term Plan comprised a wonderful 'slush fund' opportunity to fund its Coromandel harbour and aquaculture ambitions, and submitted accordingly, even though WRC members who proposed the fund wanted it for all manner of social and sporting activities.

But Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker was not so easily impressed and stated her Council's opposition to the Fund when making her submissions on Wednesday - reported in the 'Waikato Times:'

"Our council's view is we don't support regional council having a role in economic development. Territorial   authorities predominantly fill that role because they are the primary investors in infrastructure.

The majority view of our council is the fund should, in its entirety, be of the economic benefit for the whole region. If you're going to have a fund like this you're saying you want the whole region to have economic development it otherwise wouldn't have."

There's an opportunity here, but your proposal does not capture that.It sort of seems like it's written to cover everything."

Hardaker said the fund should not be administered by elected people, and instead regional council should be guardians of the fund but allow people with the right expertise to administer the funds through an independent body.

"We do not think a fund like this should be administered by elected people. To truly understand economic development in a macro sense, you need to have certain skills and expertise. And I'm not sure elected people have the right skills."

Hardaker said she could see regional council's proposal for the fund was largely modelled off that of Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Regional Infrastructure Fund, which dished out $40.5 million in 2013.

"They've made four investments in 2013 of $40.5 million - $2.5m for an innovation centre at Scion's Innovation Park in Rotorua, $15m campus in Tauranga University, $5m in the marine precinct which was stalled - it wasn't going to happen, and $18m in Opotiki for harbour transformation."

Interesting, because the Opotiki off-shore mussel aquaculture project is by no means assured - a great deal more testing is required before this risky venture is able to be supported, and yet BoP Regional Council has allocated $18m to Opotiki harbour transformation that is primarily aimed at servicing the project - sounds like another 'cart before the horse' situation.

Waikato RC would be well advised to heed the more considered advice provided by Julie Hardaker. It is simply inappropriate for a regional council be be involving itself in economic development projects - it is not set up for that purpose, and cuts straight through the role of the Territorial Authorities. And having totally unqualified regional councillors sitting around the table spending our rates in this manner is a potential disaster - particularly with the mixed messages we have had from certain WRC members about the purposes for which they think the Fund should be used.





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