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Buying-In to the Narrative

One of the problems of having a strong and single-minded mayor (Leach)) is that he tends to surround himself with like minds who with either personal conviction, or more likely, self-preservation in mind set about selling the narrative originated by the 'leader' and his cohort - in this case Leach, and the Chris Adams/Brent Page dupoly.

The tourism projects that emerged during Leach's term are now on the brink, either of success, or abject failure, depending on your particular point of view, and acceptance of the alternative narrative of difficulties and unforeseen costs arising from the various plans that have yet to be implemented.

One of these thas has been more or less simmering in the background is the extension to the dream originally brought to our Council by John Tregidga some eight years ago, and that achieved 'buy-in' only after the most rigorous, and at times acrimonious debate. This was the Hauraki Rail Trail. I suspect that had John known what was to emerge over the following eight years, he would have simply concentrated on the Paeroa to Waihi section, and possibly the Te Aroha extension, and left the Thames to Paeroa section to its own devices, but the whole plan was eventually taken up at the thime as doable, if barely essential.

Sceptics wondered just what the Thames to Paeroa section mainly through the back-end of dairy farms offered cyclists who would in time find a range of alternative, and more spectacular routes available. Then, if you don't mind, our planners made a gigantic cock-up on the surface metal chosen for the Thames/Paeroa section. It was oversize and granular to the point of causing exhaustion, and shredded tyres. This has self-corrected over time, but remains a point of contention for riders. Ill-designed farm gates also detracted from the experience.

Numbers of riders of this section never reached the estimate at the outset, and difficulties were compounded by a chaotic management and governance structure. It was almost as if the entire operation has been set up to fail. And secrecy became the order of day. Our Economic Development Committee that was supposed to be exercising control on behalf of our Council received almost no performance reports whatsoever over the last three years, and our Council certainly had no idea what was going on.

In the meantime, enthusiastic staff as described in the first paragraph continued to extol the virtues of a new extension of the track to Kaiaua that required substantial further financial commitment by all three councils, and Transport NZ in regard to a dedicated bridge over the Piako River.

What became clear over the course of time was that the enthusiasts had completely overlooked, or been unaware of the need for a five-yearly 'top-up' the stop banks that formed an integral part of this extension. The continuing maintenance costs has never been fully explained - 'top-ups' mean virtually new tracks each five years - an imposition with eye-watering financial implications, all because stop-banks over peat sink - period!

Finally, approval for the bridge and route came through, and work, held up over winter will shortly get under way again. Several contractors will be benefiting greatly from the work, but it is still not clear that even they are convinced that this is a good idea. In fact, recent reports of failure of certain essential funding to materialise, leading to the need for parts of the Trail to be re-directed, at least temporally over existing trafficked roads gives  one cause for major concern. 

It is also clear that one of the major dreams of Leach and his cohort that somehow Auckland Council would be persuaded to join in the party by 'joining the dots' between Kaiaua and Clevedon, and on to Auckland may be less than realistic, if it ever was. It seems that a great deal of importance was placed on ATEED's appointment of Chris Adam's as consultant, and driving force for the project.

ATEED's recent travails over 'branding' have led to whole new understanding of the  lack of enthusiasm on the part of the new Auckland Mayor for ATEED's free-spending  generally, and particularly in regard to the type of project exemplified by the Trail connection described by Leach, and no doubt being pushed by Adams within the walls of ATEED.

Regardless of ATEED's plans which have been recently described as 'reckless', and 'extravagant,' the fact remains that the attraction of the extended Trail to Kaiaua remains yet to be proven. The existing figures, such as they are for Thames - Paeroa cannot possibly give an indication that simply by extending it around the coast will somehow magically conjure up a raft of new cyclists keen to do this journey when far more spectacular journeys remain on offer.

Proximity to Auckland has been a big part of the marketing operation to date, but this may well depend in the long run of Auckland's willingness to fund their section from Kaiaua, and I remain far from convinced that this will be the case.

As for economic benefit to Thames - I have spoken to retailers and accommodation providers who indicate that the expected numbers of Trail riders using local facilities have simply not materialised. If this not the case then let those within Council who are the guardians of the closely held statistics should prove them wrong.

And finally, can we please have a little more transparency all round in regard to the projects that were initiated during the Leach term. I am totally confident that Mayor Goudie will ensure that light is brought bear on the subject - she has commenced well enough by eliminating the redundant Economic Development Committee - just let us see how she carries on.  I hope and trust that new CEO Rob Williams has all these matters firmly in his sights.




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