SUBMISSION TO ROTORUA LAKES COUNCIL
FROM ROTORUA DISTRICT RESIDENTS AND RATEPAYERS
RE LONG-TERM PLAN YEAR 2 DELIVERY 2022 – 2023
Submitted 11 May 2022
This submission to the Rotorua Lakes Council is on behalf of the 1,040 members, associates and friends of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers (RDRR). It was initiated on 12 April by an email offering advocacy through RDRR regarding the Council’s LTP Year 2 discussion document.
While it was noted that individual submissions had a deadline of 11 May, those who wished to have their views aggregated into a RDRR submission were invited to provide feedback by 22 April.
A draft summary was then emailed to all members, associates, and friends on 7 May for a final round of feedback and editing prior to final submission.
This submission was structured to reflect the content of the Long-Term Plan Year 2 Delivery 2022-2023 (LTP Yr2 Plan) document. It is submitted, as one member put it, “with the hope [that] elected reps TAKE EVERY FACT ON BOARD and DIGEST EVERY SECTION.”
CONCERNS ABOUT PROCESS
Respondents expressed deep frustration with the nature and quality of engagement offered regarding the proposed LTP Yr2 Plan. Four aspects of process were referred to:
- “Once again everything is all coming out, being notified all at the same time. It is hard to keep up with. But that may be the reason.”
- Council has uplifted Year 2 of the LTP, as it did with Year 1, and has claimed that, because there are “no material changes” from what was signaled in the LTP, it need not notify or consult. This is an undesirable practice and suggests a reluctance by officials to listen to citizens, which is the antithesis of democracy, and locates governance power in officials, that is, in the bureaucracy instead of with citizens. This approach and attitude is unacceptable to RDRR members.
- Nevertheless, it was also claimed that “feedback is being sought during the community engagement period and that this will help inform final decision-making.” This ambivalence suggests that Council’s Engagement and Significance Policy needs to be revised to guarantee authentic engagement with (and respect for) stakeholders and implies that the District Leadership and Democracy team needs to be reorientated to deserve its name.
- The invitation for the public to engage at the Council’s Lets Talk site did not provide for Hearings. RDRR’s members believe that public hearings are essential to elected members’ understanding of how citizens and communities of interest feel in a unique and changing context (especially in a pandemic, galloping inflation and interest rates, climate change, a rates affordability crisis, and a crisis of confidence in local government).
One member opined:
I feel RLC, as expressed, have not seriously made efforts to consult …. No Letterbox drops, nor LTP summaries in mailouts via Rates Demands, enclosures etc. to those financially responsible for funding their dream lists.
Another member said:
HEARINGS are vitally important for ratepayers to explain responses & engaging with decision makers who should be listening & questioning or explaining affordability for clarity.
The confluence of three attitudes, regularly explicit in the LTP Yr 2 Discussion Document, specifically that
- there is ‘no material difference’ between Yr 2 Plans and the LTP, therefore no real need to notify or consult,
- an ambivalent invitation seeking feedback without permitting public hearings, and
- a concerted blindness or indifference to the dramatically different social and economic context impacting residents and ratepayers,
points to stubborn predetermination that is unresponsive to diversifying and highly stressed public perspectives.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE MAYOR’S MESSAGE IN THE LTP YEAR 2
Many RDRR members were troubled by the assumptions and style of the Mayor’s introductory message.
They were alienated by the arrogant triumphalism in a context of widespread suffering, as if the Mayor and her highly-paid senior officials with grandiose job titles are ‘out of touch’ and ill-informed about day-to-day challenges in our community. The term ‘insensitive’ was used by some members.
Some members were repulsed by the Mayor taking credit for providing services, such as food deliveries to families in distress, that are being provided by church and voluntary organisations. A more modest and caring style plus evidence-based claims would have been more appropriate.
The next concerning issue is the use of jargonistic rhetoric (such as ‘place-making’) to shroud a refusal to respond to the rapidly changing context of local government. Members are concerned about the growing disconnection between key strategies and budgeted programmes, and the drift into ‘ad-hocery’ (e.g.s sudden and unbudgeted grants of $1M for QE and another $1M for decorating the tukutuku bridges, carvings and bins in the Lakefront Redevelopment) just as the Mayor and many of her political associates are ending their time on Council.
It is not enough for Council to simply reiterate the need to remain committed to five key strategies when the context in which they were conceived in has long gone.
Each strategy should have been subjected to annual formative evaluation and public accountability, along with a situational analysis to identify current and emergent challenges, with each suite of programmes being subjected to budget challenge.
Despite these serious short comings in strategic planning, and a fixation on past priorities, it is asserted that “our priority must focus on enabling housing and housing choices” and that that will be achieved by “removing barriers” to consenting and infrastructure, especially as regards storm water infrastructure.
RDRR agrees that infrastructure investment has got to be a top priority to remedy the wasteful redirection of scarce resources into vanity, legacy, and iwi partnership projects since 2013. It contests the strategic imbalance of priorities favouring Te Arawa and central government departments, especially around housing.
To RDRR members, the overall situation is ripe for a comprehensive change in direction and in policy making and implementation processes. National investment into Three Waters infrastructure and the realignment of governance and management responsibilities (due to local government reforms, the RMA, etc.) will provide an opportunity for Council to revise its Long-Term Plan and Annual Plan priorities in the public interest and for the Chief Executive to rationalize Council’s delivery systems.
Since 2013, however, Council has increasingly provided co-governance to iwi corporate elites related to capital works, Three Waters, representation, and housing, but without acknowledging the rates affordability and staffing crises it has created, and now eclipsed by predictable and rampant inflation and interest rates rises.
One member spoke for many when he argued that “RATES AFFORDABILITY should be
Another argued that:
Rotorua Council needs to have a good look at its rates increases. Many residents are finding their increases unaffordable and are planning to leave. The rates have doubled since 2013. Why is the Council driving out Rotorua’s middle class?
RDRR members also want to restore democratic and effective decision making by the elected members on Council, as a local government of unity. They regard the marginalization and vilification of elected members with views and priorities that diverge from the majority as repugnant and sharply at odds with Rotorua’s premier wellbeing values, manaakitanga: 
Manaakitanga is behaviour that acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own, through the expression of aroha, hospitality, generosity, and mutual respect. In doing so, all parties are elevated, and our status is enhanced, building unity through humility and the act of giving.
Reconciling diverse views using effective and democratic decision-making will mean defaulting to public notifications and authentic consultations instead of secrecy, open marae-style debates, and respecting policy advice from elected members on Council, Te Tatau and the Rural and Lakes Community boards, as well as expert officials.
Acknowledging the plight of many citizens will mean aiming to freeze rates and cutting waste. It can be achieved by making elected members more directly responsible for policymaking, giving them oversight of programme and project plans and budgets, with advice from expert officials and advisory boards, in new functional subcommittees to replace the SP&F and O&M Committees which largely exhibit rubber-stamping functions.
To end this section, there is also widespread concern about dysfunctional aspects of the relationship between the Mayor and the Chief Executive, specifically to do with her supervision, his administrative responsiveness, and his responsibility to coordinate expert advisory services.
A member highly experienced in local government in another district put it this way:
ANNUAL LTP priorities should be highlighted for public interest and the CEO must rationalise delivery systems to ensure all services remain within APPROVED BUDGETS with consequences to having budget overruns [blowouts]. It seems to me these [and other mistakes] are tolerated beyond reason … i.e. $74k+ to advance the RLC Representation Arrangements was not put before Crs or ratepayers & public voters … Mayor’s extravagance. The CEO remains silent on these issues, yet the buck stops there.
CONCERNS OVER COUNCIL’S VIEW AND PRACTICE OF PARTNERSHIP
The Council’s “partnership with Te Arawa and all of Government” is increasingly offensive to RDRR’s members in concept and in practice.
Theoretically, this conflation of political power recognizes three partners and marginalizes all other communities of interest (and their constituent citizens). It notionally creates three parties in co-governance:
- Council’s ruling elite (the Mayor’s followers and senior officials),
- Te Arawa’s ruling elite (primarily Ngāti Whakaue’s Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust) and
- Central government’s Cabinet.
Notionally excluded are all non-elites, other communities and out-group citizens who normally would expect to be treated with equal respect as participants in democratic local government.
This creation of exclusive partnerships also cancels the social contract created by elections between local government and the citizens of Rotorua District because Te Arawa’s elite and central government departments are not elected by and answerable to local citizens . This hypothetical conception of local government (as an exclusive three-party alliance) is flatly rejected by RDRR’s members as having developed into an undemocratic and irrelevant tyranny.
In practice, Council adopted Te Arawa’s Vision 2050 and treated it as the automatic successor to Council’s own Vision 2030, without debate or formal decision. This is unacceptable in a democratic community where sovereignty (the rule to rule) is vested in each citizen and where citizens give their consent to be governed by secret ballot and equal suffrage until the next election.
Council’s recent championing of the ‘principles of equal parity’ between wards on behalf of Ngāti Whakaue’s elite sought to degrade the principles of democracy and citizens’ rights to equal suffrage that are guaranteed by Article 3 of Te Tiriti and by s12 in the New Zealand Bill of Rights.
The substantive components of the Partnership listed on p. 6 of the LTP Yr 2 Plan are confused and confusing due to the idiosyncratic use of organizational rhetoric and low internal coherence.
The projected ‘Focus Areas’ chosen years ago, with the exception of the Tarawera Sewerage Scheme, comprise the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) upgrade, Out of the Forest – spray and irrigation consent and options, Whakarewarewa Forest project, Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre (SHMPAC), Museum, Lakefront and the Aquatic Centre. They are technically projects, not ‘focus areas,’ that have been funded and are proceeding (or that are awaiting central government grants, due to Council’s borrowing having nearly reached permitted ceilings).
RDRR members are of the view that Council foolishly adopted far more projects from 2013 than ratepayers and prudent financial management could cope with, resulting in a ‘growth by maximizing debt’ approach that is not a prudent financial strategy.
The so-called ‘Transformational Initiatives’ are mostly aspirational targets or paper projects. They include a 25ha new industrial business park, Community safety projects, Developing 6,000 homes plus enabling 10,000 by 2030, Two inner city apartment buildings, Community Service Hubs (Eastside, Westside, Ngongotahā), Neighbourhood co-creation and investment programme (Eastside, Westside, Ngongotahā), and Strengthening and driving co-governance with Te Arawa.
The alleged ‘Key Strategies’ are technically desktop policies used to legitimate funded and unfunded projects. They comprise Community Safety Strategy, Homes and Thriving Communities, Economic Development Strategy Framework, Climate Action Plan, and 30-year Infrastructure Strategy.
The self-styled ‘Seven Goals’ are aspirational rhetoric also used to legitimate funded and unfunded projects. They comprise Enhanced environment, Employment Choices, A Resilient Community, Homes that match needs, Business Innovation + Prosperity, Vibrant City Heart and Outstanding places to play.
In sum, the Council has developed ‘Focus Areas’, ‘Transformational Initiatives’, ‘Key Strategies’ and ‘Seven Goals’ to conceptually encompass its Vision 2030 and Te Arawa’s 2050 Vision, while also leaving it free to partner with central government agencies on mutually beneficial projects, with funding benefits (such as housing NZ’s homeless with MSD, MHUD and Kainga Ora).
The consistent losers from this three-way partnership are Rotorua residents and ratepayers who are systematically excluded from consideration but who will have to carry the incurred debt into coming generations.
CONCERNS ABOUT COUNCIL’S APPRECIATION OF RISKS
The Y2 Plan recognizes seven predominant sources of risks to service delivery and to the Council’s capital plan. It outlines a framework of contingency plans for each risk, including Covid-19, climate change, government reforms (i.e. Three Waters, Resource Management Act, Local Government and Emergency Response reforms), staff retention and recruitment, inflation, interest costs and the reputation of Rotorua.
RDRR members are concerned that the appreciation of risks, as evidenced by preliminary contingency frameworks, because they are too narrow in conception, too long on description, too shallow in analysis and too light on action. The appreciation does not appear to have moved beyond a desktop exercise, with vague probability estimates and costings, and in sum, appears to be a light revision of previous analyses of risks.
It is disconcerting to RDRR’s members that Council’s appreciation of risks is disconnected from its ‘Key Strategies’. The Emergency Management of Natural Hazards appears to have slipped from consideration.
Finally, RDRR members were puzzled and angered that three sources of acute risk to ratepayers are not mentioned. One is that a majority of elected members and senior officials appear to be implacably indifferent to the pain that they are inflicting on residents and ratepayers by progressively hiking rates. Some regard it as a form of elder abuse.
The second source of acute risk was clarified by a member as:
The financial allocations funded by ratepayers to projects that are basically Central Govt & Govt Depts [responsibility] is concerning (e.g. Housing, Safety, Welfare responsibilities) all ratepayers are taxpayers so double hits … by the RLC.
The third source of risk is the turnover of specialist staff turnover in financial accounting and the related quality of corporate financial management. One member raised the alarm:
As accounting is my forte, it worries me the number of accounting roles that have been advertised at the RDC. This continual rollover of accounting roles I believe weakens the institutional knowledge, and in my view, dumbs down the strength of the organisation and makes it easier for control by the current administration.
CONCERNS ABOUT COUNCIL’S KEY STRATEGIES
The Homes and Thriving Communities Strategy is given far higher attention by Council than any other strategy, despite housing not being a local government responsibility and that the capacity of communities to ‘thrive’ is heavily dependent on the success of the national economy and the reconstruction of Rotorua’s post-Covid economy.
The general result is unfunded policy overreach, inflated expectations of Council and widespread dissatisfaction with delivery. To be fair, the Housing Taskforce comprising Council and a series of central government departments, can only offer limited coordination of housing delivery systems.
Hence, RDRR members would prefer the Council to only support the initiatives of central government agencies that are reflective of their actual responsibilities in housing but do so in a way that more explicitly represents the interests of Rotorua’s citizens.
For example, they believe that it was Restore Rotorua’s threat of legal action (against the Council tacitly waiving District Plan notification and consultation requirements in response to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development’s (MHUD’s) application to change the consent given to 13 motels) that forced Council to engage independent commissioners to help resolve matters.
The Council’s initial position reflected their three-party perspective on partnerships that gives primacy to Te Arawa and central government interests and generally downplayed ratepayers’ interests. This biased approach is inappropriate and unacceptable.
Council has made the housing situation in Rotorua much worse that it should be by, in collaboration with central government agencies, accepting disproportionate responsibility for housing New Zealand’s homeless. This extravagant decision has seriously distracted Council from its core business and aggravated local law and order issues. Worse, it has established a homeless industry in partnership with MSD and Ngāti Whakaue at The Hub that will seek to maintain the inflow of homeless into our community in perpetuity, quite possibly to include more 501s from Australia.
It would now be wiser, in RDRR’s view, to schedule the downscaling of homeless immigration plus wrap-around and transitional support by MSD while seeking to sustaining the provision of affordable homes by Kainga Ora and the private sector. There are also growing doubts about Council’s growth estimates used to project demand and shortages, especially given increasing anecdotal evidence of middle-class flight due to Rotorua’s reputational damage.
Instead of tacitly enabling the free-wheeling immigration programme of MSD, ostensibly to provide more affordable housing to the ‘most needy’ as defined by Kainga Ora, Council should redraft the District Plan promptly to be consistent with the changed legislative environment and to both signal and require motels consented to provide temporary tourism accommodation to comply with the new terms or seek a variation.
Despite recent Council efforts to inform the public about the legal options being pursued, the methods being used are not well appreciated nor proving effective. One RDRR member asked, “What is the immediate plan to return motel complexes to their intended purpose (temporary stay for travellers and tourists)?”
It also appears that Council rushed into gaining Tier 1 designation without thinking through the strategic implications. The predictable effects in Rotorua will include accelerated infill developments, lower building quality, distributed pockets of small slums, and further disruptions to suburban lifestyles with the removal of the need for building consents and appeal rights.
Tier I terms and conditions have also rendered Rotorua’s Spatial Plan and District Plan obsolete and non-compliant with medium density residential standards and the National Policy Statement on Urban Development. Council now needs to provide far greater surety by redrafting its District Plan, hopefully to ameliorate some of the unanticipated effects of joining Tier 1.
For example, Tier 1 housing developments will add pressure to current Three Waters infrastructure before a national capacity and governance solution has been agreed and before new development contributions make a significant difference to Council’s income streams. In the interim, having nearly reached its permissible borrowing limits, Council is now more or less reliant on patronage from central government to start any new major projects (e.g. the Infrastructure Acceleration Fund).
To conclude this section, many members expressed bitter opposition to the recent and hitherto secret proposal to convert Reserves into Tier 1 housing. Some opposed the proposal because Ngāti Whakaue had apparently not been notified and consulted prior to the revelations, and others because Kianga Ora were moving ahead anyway with geotechnical testing, as if preliminary permission had already been given. The ‘Housing on Reserves’ initiative is suffering from a major loss in public confidence.
The Community Safety Strategy clarifies appropriate aims but is heavily reliant on the effectiveness of patrols for its achievement and widely considered to be failing. The occassional publications of visionary statements, moreover, do not convince RDRR members who have seen their lifestyles directly and adversely affected by the Council’s temporary accommodation policies and practices.
RDRR’s members believe that Council’s Community Safety Strategy will not be achieved until the root cause of significant and unacceptable changes to the demographics of what have become suburban ‘hot spots’ is addressed and reversed; the immigration of homeless from around New Zealand.
They also believe that this immigration is a central feature of The Hub’s business plan which is supported by Council’s partners in the Housing Taskforce, specifically Ngāti Whakaue and central government departments. Accordingly, they take the view that it will require a major change in representation on Council to significantly improve community safety.
In sum, RDRR members stressed how serious the ‘law and order’ issue has become in Rotorua, and despite repeated assurances by the Mayor and Council officials over years, that it continues to worsen. One spoke for many when he reported:
A meeting of residents in Western Heights called for an extension to the Guardians scheme. They need to be patrolling, two to a car, Western Heights, Fordlands, Malfroy, Fenton and Owhata on weekends. There are about 10 burglaries a week, mostly near Fenton. Cars are being stolen for ram raiding. It just gets worse. It’s closely linked to poverty. People are struggling. They need food parcels.
The Economic Development Strategy has also failed, RDRR members believe, initially due to the sudden impact of the Covid pandemic on domestic and international tourism and the immediate obsolescence of its recently completed Destination Management Plan and its earlier draft Economic Development Strategy (2020).
Since then, the redeployment of RED’s professional marketing staff into soliciting investment and land development proposals for residential, industrial and CBD developments is seen as implausible and ill-advised because each of these roles require specialist expertise. It could be that partnerships with local businesses to invest in our district will be seriously impaired by expecting RED staff to provide professional support beyond their expertise.
There are also serious concerns about RED staff being involved in local business projects with development costs being paid by ratepayers without ratepayers gaining returns. The Toi Ohomai training café situated at the i-Site building in Fenton Street is of less of concern because short-term capacity building in the tourism industry is consistent with RED’s outreach and capacity building responsibilities.
On the other hand, the Lakefront Redevelopment commercial building and Te Pūtake o Tawa commercial café and bike hire are to be funded by ratepayers (plus maintenance in perpetuity) and will only generate returns to leaseholders and landowners. These business plans are unacceptable to RDRR members and should be renegotiated.
At the same time, RDRR members are aware of some of the planning challenges facing Rotorua but see them as a matter for qualified planners. One member, for example, asked
What planning is in place for expansion of educational facilities if apartment living complexes are to built in rezoned inner city land? Is there a structured zoning plan in place that controls the number of Māori health facilities that are establishing themselves in Rotorua?
The Enabling Infrastructure/Climate Change Strategy appears to be an awkward bend of two strategies. The former is widely accepted as a top priority for much more comprehensive funding, presumably as soon as the Three Waters policy process is completed, with interim grants. The latter is widely accepted as a national strategic imperative and that the local plan for action written by officials has been derived, supported but remains largely symbolic.
It is crucial, to RDRR members, that councillors be elected with real practical experience of climate-change mitigation strategies, most especially in farming, to move past ‘blame games’ and into fulsome cooperation on environmental policies with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
RDRR has long campaigned for an acceleration of infrastructure investment and projects and have no concerns with current priorities, including the reticulation of Tarawera’s wastewater. They also recall contributing directly to the policy process that resulted in the discharging of treated wastewater being moved from the lakefront into the Whakarewarewa Forest and would welcome being invited into other policy development processes.
In the interim, RDRR members are primarily concerned that elected members have been marginalized from the local and secret Three Waters policy process. They saw the establishment last year of a ‘Joint Committee’ comprising the Mayor and four councillors she nominated along with five anonymous Te Arawa representatives, and given the power of policy oversight, as utterly inappropriate. At the same time, the Chief Executive and the DCE Infrastructure were empowered to represent the RLC at all policy development forums offered by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA).
Since then, these local exclusionary tactics have become the norm. Neither a report commissioned by the Communities 4 Local Democracy group (of over 30 councils) nor the Minister’s commissioned report on governance and management options have been allowed to be discussed by the Mayor. This capture of policy making by the Mayor and her in-group on Council, co-governors and senior officials is unacceptable. It is an affront to the “effective and democratic decision-making” required of councils by the Local Government Act.
The other related concern that RDRR members have is that RLC is one of the few councils that loyally supported the Minister’s Three Waters proposals from the outset. It is therefore reasonable to expect that the RLC will be among the first councils to get access to the $2B “Better Off” component of the Minister’s support package.
The problem RDRR sees here is that the RLC will be able to use this funding to support the three waters service reform, but also be able to focus on other local wellbeing outcomes associated with climate change and resilience, housing and urban design and planning, and community wellbeing. However, without oversight by elected members, this degree of flexibility could encourage the RLC to continue its wasteful support of vanity, legacy and iwi partnership projects.
CONCERNS ABOUT COUNCIL’S MAJOR PROJECTS
Council plans to invest $143 million in Year 2 of the current LTP in eight projects that are now discussed in the chronological sequence of their planned completions. A ninth project that has apparently been suspended is also discussed.
RDRR members are primarily concerned about over commitment by Council to vanity, legacy and iwi partnership projects, especially given the context of a rates affordability crisis and supply chain congestion, the close relationship between project scheduling and the political cycle, and the extent to which debt and grants from central government are being used to sustain a political narrative of ‘progress’ with debt, inflation and interest changes all surging.
- The Whakarewarewa Forest Project is 95 per cent complete. The RLC, landowners, iwi representatives and users (mountain bikers, trail walkers and runners) have used a $45M investment from taxpayers and ratepayers to build a 400-car car park, upgrade and construct new trails, and to construct a visitors’ centre and a café. RDRR members are aware of four impediments to the success of this public investment.
First, with the RLC’s involvement, the contract for providing shuttle services was returned to iwi control. This ill-judged decision scandalized the national mountain biking community and adversely affected patronage. Instead of accepting and learning from the public feedback, the Deputy Mayor and two business associates submitted a Code of Conduct complaint against the whistleblower to the Mayor who accepted it, and once endorsed by the Audit and Risk Committee, went through the farce of apologizing to the complainants.
Second, planning assumed that about 230,000 people would visit yearly for mountain biking, with up to 800,000 visitors per year, and that this level of tourism could be sustained and would continue to grow. A contrary indicator was that the premier commercial venture, Crankworx, sought and was given a $1.25M subsidy over 5 years by the RLC instead of being expected to break even once its foundational grants from RECT expired. Another related indicator is that, instead of developing a profitable business plan, Crankworx appears to have been shopping for subsidies in other tourist districts to duplicate its dependency on public funding. Another wholly unanticipated challenge was the impact of the Covid pandemic on all tourism businesses.
Third, it was discovered that the Council’s investment in facilities on iwi land, including a tourist centre and retail outlets, would result in their ownership being transferred to iwi corporates (who would then collect leases) while also guaranteeing maintenance at ratepayers’ expenses in perpetuity. Ratepayers were understandably scandalized.
Fourth, the longer-term plans for this development include a gondola to a mountain top. Council has apparently anticipated this phase by boosting the supply of electricity to the site, again at ratepayers’ expense.
In sum, the public investment in this project has achieved uneven and uncertain outcomes evidently due to poor business planning exposed when Covid undercut demand. The facilities available to visitors and leaseholders have been significantly improved and that is to the public good. On the other hand, it was rashly “anticipated that once these foundations are laid, commercial investment will follow for the benefit of everyone in our region.”
With completion imminent in the months before the local elections in October, it is time, RDRR believes, for the Council to take independent and expert advice on how best to reform their business relationship with the iwi corporate involved to progressively downscale the financial risks to ratepayers.
- The SHMPAC Project is 90 per cent completed. It is a Category One heritage building with a Civic Theatre and Concert Chamber. It was closed in November 2017 when a seismic assessment confirmed that it was earthquake prone. A detailed business case for refurbishment followed community engagement and consultation.
From the outset RDRR advised a ‘restoration’ approach that accepted the period ‘Grand Piano’ architecture and urged getting productions underway as soon as possible to help fund ongoing works.
Council, however, took a ‘strengthening, restoration and redevelopment’ approach and attracted substantial external grants. Ngāti Whakaue sought a fresh indigenous architectural overlay and decorations that reflected their cultural preferences, without, it appears, making any contribution to the budget. Despite advice based on decades of experience from the performing arts community, the seating plan was expanded to cater for almost 1,000 patrons. The project deadlines and costs blew out.
The original budget set in 2017 was $17.9m. In July 2021, Council revealed the budget for the project had ballooned from $22.5m to $33.7m, and the council contribution had almost doubled from $11.5m to $22.6m. Completion will probably be celebrated just before the October 2022 local elections. It will then be vital, in RDRR’s view, that professional management services are engaged to ensure that the centre starts making appropriate returns to the ratepayers of Rotorua.
- The Lakefront Redevelopment Project was jointly planned by Council and Pukeroa Lakefront Holdings, a subsidiary of Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust. It is 85 per cent completed.
The project has three sources of investment; $20.1M from ratepayers through Council, $19.9M from taxpayers through the Provincial Growth Fund, and $1M from taxpayers through the Kānoa – REDIU unit within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The Kānoa – REDIU contribution was tagged to provide a cultural overlay of artwork, interpretation, and design, with local artists being contracted to contribute carvings and information.
The closing phases of the project in 2022-2023 will include a whare waka and a commercial building where leased retail outlets will be managed by an iwi corporate without returns coming to ratepayers. Maintenance has been guaranteed in perpetuity by Council on behalf of ratepayers.
RDRR believes that Council should commission independent and expert advice on how best to reform their business relationship with Pukeroa Lakefront Holdings Ltd to limit and progressively downscale the financial risks to ratepayers.
- The Rotoiti /Rotomā Sewerage Project was launched in the Council’s 2017-18 Annual Plan after extensive community consultations. Council committed to the construction of a reticulated sewerage scheme for East Rotoiti and Rotomā that would connect to a new stand-alone wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The Bay of Plenty Regional Council consented the use of rapid infiltration trenches to discharge treated wastewater onto land to avoid degrading lake water quality (through the leaching of nitrogen, phosphorus and pathogens).
The project is replacing household septic tanks and other on-site treatment and disposal systems on about 700 properties. The project is about 80 per cent completed and is expected to be finished in 2024.
There are niggling questions about thisproject. Should this stand-alone WWTP solution for the Rotoiti /Rotomā community continue, when, with the use of STEP and Biolytix pre-treatments, the wastewater could be pumped to West Rotoiti without causing cultural offence, and then on to the Rotorua WWTP where there is spare capacity? Could the consented adoption of rapid infiltration trenches to discharge treated wastewater on land for the Rotoiti /Rotomā project be applied at the Rotorua WWTP scheme?
Second, is the scheme still financially prudent when the total estimated cost of the scheme in the 2017/2018 Annual Plan was $34.5 million and was to be largely covered by subsidies from the Ministry of Health, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, and the Ministry for Environment, but with Council to fund the rest ($9.8m) by borrowing be spread across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years? Is the scheme still financially prudent when the maintenance of the Rotoiti /Rotomā scheme is reputed to be over $1M per annum before it is to be extended out to Rotoehu?
Taken together, these questions suggest to RDRR that an independent and expert policy review and project evaluation should be commissioned in the light of the latest wastewater technologies.
- The Rotorua Museum Project started with funding approved in the 2018 Long Term Plan. The Museum was closed in November 2016 when cracks appeared in the building after the Kaikoura earthquake. A Detailed Seismic Assessment found the building to be earthquake prone. The project’s original aim was restoration; “the aim is that when people walk in when it re-opens they will say it looks the same as before.” 
The project’s appropriately modest business aims at the outset were apparently modified by Te Pūkenga Kōeke o te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa, a group of Te Arawa kaumatua supporting Rotorua Museum decisions. The 2021-2031 Long-Term Plan (p. 38) records a significant expansion in project purposes; “The strengthening, restoration and redevelopment of Rotorua Museum is a key element of Rotorua Lakes Council’s Vision 2030 and the Rotorua Way.”
The 2021-2031 LTP also projected annual expenditure of $6.01M for Year 1 (2021-2022), $31.21M for Year 2 (2022-2023), $16.78M for Year 3 (2023-2024) and $4.85M for Year 4 (2024-2025), a total of $58.38M.
The LTP Yr 2 Plan (p. 17) provides a revised estimate of $19.3M for 2022-2023, indicates that the project is 15% complete, and that the project is “in the last stages of detailed design, finalizing design solutions for a heavy roof and poor ground conditions, including geotechnical and invasive testing of the structure.” It is expected the main construction phase of the project will start in the second half of 2022 with completion of the restoration and earthquake strengthening in the last quarter of 2024. It also reported that
Community and iwi engagement has commenced for the development of the exhibitions with a master plan expected to be completed December 2022. Funding for the exhibitions is being sourced from national and local funds and grants, as it is not included in council funding for the building project. An Exhibition Design Company will be engaged shortly who will help us turn our engagement knowledge and learnings into the required Master Plan in order for us to establish developed and detailed designs and undertake exhibition construction and installation. Exhibitions are planned to be open to the public in 2025.
RDRR is of the view that this iconic building, central to Rotorua’s tourism industry and international reputation, should have been given far higher priority than three iwi partnership projects (the Whaka Forest Project, the SHMPAC Project and the Lakefront Redevelopment Project).
It is also of the view that it was a strategic mistake to rebrand the Museum as Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa and ‘cross the line’ from earthquake proofing and ‘restoration’ into culturally exclusive and expensive ‘redevelopment’.
- The Waste Water Treatment Plant Project is a joint project of Rotorua Lakes Council, CNI Iwi Holdings and Te Arawa Lakes Trust. Their agreement, the Kawenata – Puarenga Catchment of Te Rotoruanui-a-Kahumatamomoe, has replaced Council’s proposal to discharge treated wastewater to Lake Rotorua via a land contact bed. RDRR actively opposed this original solution.
Kawenata was accepted by the Environment Court in August 2020. A Puarenga Catchment Reference Group has been established to oversee the improvement of the waters in the catchment, especially in the Puarenga stream.
The upgrade of the Wastewater Treatment Plant’s land discharge system is currently being designed with $18M budgeted for construction in the LTP Yr2 Plan. The project is about five per cent completed and expected to have a lifespan of approximately five years with expected completion in the 2027/28 financial year.
RDRR was consulted over Kawenata. A workshop for its members was well attended and generated supportive understandings of the project and its proposed level of funding.
- The Aquatic Centre Project attracted strong support during consultations over the LTP 2021-2031, so much so that the most expensive redevelopment option was adopted.
$15.3M has been budgeted for Year 2 of the LTP to reroof the indoor pool, add ventilation, upgrade the foyer and start work on the learn-to-swim pool and hydro slides depending on additional funding being attracted.
Since many ratepayers would have preferred a maintenance or restoration project, due to the rates affordability crisis in Rotorua, they would ask that every line of proposed expenditure be reviewed by independent evaluators expert in the refurbishment of aquatic centres.
- The Tarawera Sewerage Project is to install Low Pressure Grinder Pumps (LPGP) on each property that will be linked to a mains pipeline that will connect the Tarawera network to the existing Ōkāreka wastewater pump station. From there, wastewater will be pumped to Rotorua’s wastewater treatment plant. This solution confirms that the stand-alone WWTP built for the Rotoiti /Rotomā community was needlessly profligate.
The first phase of the Tarawera project – the design work that will include finding the best location on each property for the LPGP system – is now getting underway. The budgeted works programme in Year 2 of the LTP amounts to $11 million.
RDRR members attended the consultation events at Lake Tarawera and support the project and its priority because it is a core service of local government that is being advanced with appropriate prudence.
- The Westbrook Sports and Recreation Precinct Project is mentioned ten times in the Long-Term Plan 2021-2031, with a rationale and budgets projected on p. 38.
Due to the poor condition of sports fields and the projected population growth across the District a proposal has been developed for a sports precinct in Westbrook. The Westbrook Sports Precinct project has been included in the Long Term Plan 2021- 31 budgets from year six onwards as a potential long-term project. The financial allocation in years one, two and three of the 2021-2031 Long-term Plan relate to Westbrook sports field renewals.
To be clear, the projected budgets for the Westbrook Project in the LTP 2021-2031 are $405,000 for Year 1 (2021-2022), $846,000 for Year 2 (2022-2023), $1.2M for Year 3 (2023-2024), and $59M for Years 4-10 (2024-2031), totaling $61.451M.
This project is controversial in the Springfield community because the draft plans for Westbrook included converting the front nine of the Springfield Golf Course into car parking and soccer fields, and the back nine into mixed-density housing to help fund the project. It has raised concerns in the wider Rotorua community about the destruction of the 500+ heritage trees and the impact that would have on the habitat which supports a wide range of wildlife, including the critically endangered Karearea (New Zealand falcon).
New Zealand has officially acknowledged the “Climate Emergency” and was one of 141 countries to endorse the outcomes of the “UN Climate Change Conference” (UK 2021). The felling of large concentrations of mature trees would contributes to climate change because it would deplete the affected area’s ability to absorb the warming gas CO2. The destruction of the 500+ mature trees at Springfield would be in direct opposition to the principles agreed to by our Government and many others around the world.
There is also outrage from the affected suburbs at losing their local sports fields should they be forced to move to the Westbrook Precinct, due to a planned lack of investment in maintenance of their existing grounds. These communities would lose their local green spaces along with the generations of culture and identity that binds them together and forms an important part of the fabric of their lives.
As Rotorua faces a growing “cost of living crisis,” taking away the ability for participants and supporters to stroll or cycle to their local ground will inevitably create a financial barrier to participation and force struggling families to walk away from sport, which would be the opposite outcome to that intended.
One possible measure of the effectiveness of the Saving Springfield campaign to date is that the Westbrook project is not mentioned in the LTP Year 2 Plan. Another is that consideration of the project has been deferred until the LTP 2024-3024 planning process.
The context of planning has also seen a shift in priorities. The DCE District Development recently reported to Council that
the climate flood modelling from the BOPRC necessitated Council consider as the first priority the storm water management requirements of the Utahina (sic) and Mangakakahi streams across our green spaces. … we needed to know how we were going to use the existing green spaces (including the Golf course) to reduce our flooding risk downstream before any decisions on the recreation uses could be made. This was a change from when the Westbrook proposal was initially developed ….
the golf course area may need to be contoured/built to detain storm water or act as an overflow area. As a consequence, it may end up that its only future use might be as a green belt or golf course.
[the storm water infrastructure planning team is] still developing the storm water master plan and we do not have the modelling, funding or design work complete to determine what those future options might be. … it would be completely inappropriate and wrong for Council to extend a lease and potentially limit our options and the potential to manage flood risks further downstream when we do not currently know what is required. The consequences of not having the Golf course (if needed) could result in millions of dollars of additional cost in land acquisition or the necessity to put in place managed retreat provisions.
The DCE Infrastructure’s description of the “phased approach” to stormwater master planning being used included “effective consultations with potentially affected parties”, and may go some way towards assuring the public that
if works are required to take place in the future they will all follow these phases of feasibility, fatal flows, design assessment, consenting, contractual arrangements and agreements that will all come before the elected members of this body [Council] to make decision, and we are nowhere near that at this point in time.
What is imminent is potential funding from the Infrastructure Acceleration Fund for up to $99M for storm water infrastructure. It could provide an excellent opportunity to rebuild trust with the Springfield community around the future of their beloved golf course. RDRR suggests a community-based design solution that reconciles the need to significantly enhance the existing water retention capacity of the golf course (it already acts as a natural dam, as demonstrated during the most recent floods) with a renewal of its lease.
There are also four peninsulas across the Utuhina stream from the golf course that could be the location of other engineered storm water retention solutions. The Club would, no doubt, be open to exploring options that involve land not currently utilised for play to be incorporated into the stormwater solution.
There is, quite literally, enough common ground available for such solutions, providing there is the will by Council to engage with the potentially affected communities. RDRR recalls the positive outcomes achieved when infrastructure planning over the Kawenata agreement included a workshop for its members at the Springfield Golf Course.
The Overall Capital Works Programme totaling $143,254,666 in Year 2 of the LTP (p. 22) does not reflect the much-changed context of multiple crises; Covid-19, rates affordability, interest rates, climate change, cost of living/ inflation and plummeting confidence in local government.
There was apparently no attempt to cut expenditure, only a determination to ‘Finish what we started’ for a total of $28,873,962 expenditure projected on the SHMPAC project, the Rotorua Museum project, the Lakefront Redevelopment project and the Whakarewarewa Forest project.
There is no justification given for Fleet Renewals at $672,500 or Building Upgrades and Renewals at $7,790,474, which is of concern because it may indicate degrees of featherbedding.
Overall, RDRR members are deeply disappointed that, in a context of multiple crises and acute risks, yet another opportunity to cut expenditure and debt has been missed.
Another key feature of the LTP Yr 2 Plan is that there is virtually no change to Council’s direction and priorities in a context where almost everything else has changed. It is implausibly imprudent. One RDRR member asked bluntly, “What review if any has been done to assess the current projects in hand against fiscal benefits they will add to the town coffers.”
The last word is left to another member of RDRR with decades of experience as an elected member in local government:
RDRR is not only disappointed but seriously confused and concerned that opportunities to review and cut expenditure and debt have been totally neglected and overlooked …. this I see is the responsibility of Council to direct the CEO and his seven Deputy CEOs to initiate and to action this as professional advisers.
Reynold Macpherson, RDRR Chairman
07 346 8553, 021 725 708, firstname.lastname@example.org