New Zealand

Local Democracy Reporting

Hearings told of 'death trap' skate parks, 'short-sighted' cuts

Wed, May 31
Rotorua’s elected members have heard public feedback on its draft Annual Plan.

A Rotorua gardener has described skate park facilities as a "death trap", while a teacher called proposed cuts to museum services "short-sighted".

The comments were made during Rotorua Lakes Council's draft Annual Plan consultation hearings on Wednesday and Thursday last week, where 101 people were set to speak to their submissions.

The plan proposed a raft of cuts aimed at limiting the average rates rise to 7.2%. It attracted 2090 pieces of feedback before the hearings.

Rotorua Mayor Tania Tapsell began the hearing process by saying it was fantastic to see the number of people submitting.

Infracore gardener Kieran Hunter spoke to councillors about his work and his view of what the plan proposed regarding cuts to city beautification services, such as removing flower beds around the city.

He said gardens had a huge impact on the people around them, including on mental and emotional health.

"The splashes of colour around Rotorua are a talking point of locals and tourists alike.

"I believe money could be saved around Rotorua but cutting back the amount or quality of gardens would be a negative to Rotorua's image, and the mental and physical wellbeing of those who live and visit our city."

Hunter also believed the development of Kuirau Skate Park should not be postponed, saying in his view existing skate parks were sunken concrete "death traps", with concrete rougher than an "industrial cheese grater".

"We are in desperate need of an upgrade."

Teacher Sheryl Hewitson said she had been involved in the Museum Teacher Reference Group for more than 10 years.

She said the new social studies curriculum had an emphasis on "people and place", and said the proposal to cut the Museum Education Service would mean schools would no longer be supported with expert local knowledge.

"The stories our team tell and hold are irreplaceable."

She said in her view the council was being "short-sighted".

Legal case worker David Sparks was concerned about proposed funding cuts for community groups, specifically the Rotorua Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

Sparks worked part-time as a legal case worker in the Rotorua Community Law Service, and the bureau refers clients to him.

But he said if the CAB had to close their doors due to lack of funding, the people it helped would instead knock on his door.

"We are busy enough as it is."

Referring to how Auckland's bureaus escaped funding cuts initially proposed under their council's draft Annual Plan, he said Mayor Wayne Brown had suggested central government provide funding instead of councils.

"In reality, I don't see that happening."

Former councillor Reynold Macpherson spoke on behalf of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers Association. Now retired, it was his last act as chairman.

He said the association strongly supported the council's move to change direction from the Long-term Plan, given operating environments had "changed dramatically".

This included outside of the council, such as the impact of Covid-19, emergency housing issues, poverty and inflation.

But he said the quality of the draft Annual Plan was dependent on the quality of its planning processes. Macpherson was critical of the process when consultation began, as the shaping of the plan had been done behind closed doors.

He said the draft plan's top priorities needed changing.

"We want to end the Government's homeless industry as soon as possible... and switch some savings to pensioner flats programme."

Former Rotorua district councillor Reynold Macpherson.

He said projects such as the Rotorua Museum redevelopment and Tarawera sewerage schemes should be deferred.

Other submitters voiced concerns about the drafting process, including former Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman and current board member Te Taru White, who told elected members it was disappointed to not have been involved in the shaping of the plan, and that it would have added a depth of value to it.

He said the exclusion from the process was in conflict with the partnership it had with the council.

Ben Sandford spoke on behalf of Evolve Rotorua: "Unfortunately, I am not going to be positive today."

He said the proposed cost cuts could have a very negative effect. He believed the draft plan was contradictory in what it aimed to do.

By cutting costs, there was the potential for cost long-term.

"We also note a lot of the capital expenditure tagged for savings, that if this is delayed it is only going to increase cost."

He said it was not clear whether the cuts proposed were permanent or not and there was a saving to continuing to do things as they were now.

Under what was proposed, the council's debt would increase by $51m and it would have a $141m capital projects programme.

Elected members will now deliberate and the final plan will be adopted on June 28.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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