As the public’s attention switches from the coalition negotiations to Christmas shopping, let’s not forget that Tauranga City Council is consulting its vitally important 2024-34 Draft Long Term Plan (LTP) until 15 December.
Sustainable BOP Trust has called on the council to delay its LTP due to the change of government. The Coalition has now confirmed it will scrap Labour’s three waters reforms and there is also huge uncertainty around transportation funding.
Western BOP District Council last week chose to delay its plan by three months, but TCC is still planning to bring its plan forward by four months! Rather than consult as usual in March of 2024, TCC is consulting in November-December 2023.
This LTP is the ‘key play’ by Tauranga’s Commissioners. Up until this point, they have mostly just been implementing projects and plans put forward by TCC staff and included by TCC’s councillors in their Draft 2021 LTP.
Whereas this 2024 LTP is first in the Commission’s list of obligations to fulfil their revised 2022 Terms of Reference:
• deliver a 2024-34 Long-Term Plan that prioritises the needs of the community, city and region;
At the 27 November Council meeting, Commissioner Anne Tolley stated:
“I’ve just had an email from someone who is advocating for us to delay our Long Term Plan. … The reason the Commission’s term was extended included in the Terms of Reference of our extension was to deliver the 2024 to 2034 Long Term Plan. So we have no mandate to anything other than that. … We have specific terms of reference and we work to those, until that mandate is changed.”
What Commissioner Tolley didn’t say is that there was no need to bring forward TCC’s LTP. Council plans are usually signed off by 30 June, which would be before the Commissioners finish their roles in July 2024 (straight after council elections are held).
The real reason TCC is consulting on its LTP four months earlier than normal is that the Commissioners want to lock in contracts for their big projects and need time to do that after finalising their LTP (which approves the Council’s financial commitments to those projects).
The first point we’ll make is that the Commissioners could easily fulfil their obligations if TCC delays the plan for four months, or until new government policies become clearer. They could sign it off in June as normal and, if they wish, probably still have time to sign contracts afterwards.
The second point is that if, like WBOP District Council, even June seems too rushed, the Commissioners could easily approach the new Minister for Local Government and ask for an agreement that they deliver a Long Term Plan by July, ready for final sign-off by the elected councillors.
What National Minister in this new Coalition government is going to refuse former National Minister Anne Tolley and argue that National doesn’t support a more democratic outcome (a constant theme in both Coalition agreements)? And tell her that unlike other councils (such as WBOPDC), this government won’t allow time for Tauranga’s Council to re-set its plan in response to the new government’s three waters and transport policies?
Of course, ours a very logical view, but it doesn’t allow for the political angle. Our proposed solution would be great for almost everyone (council staff, central government, WBOP District Council, ratepayers and the people of Tauranga) – but it may not allow time for the Commissioners to lock in their big construction contracts before they depart in July.
Which takes us to a core issue in TCC’s Draft LTP. The Commissioners have floated a number of ideas in the past year or two, including the proposed Domain Stadium, a conference centre in the CBD, a re-jigging of sports facilities across the city, asset sales (including selling the two parking buildings), and their proposed road pricing plan.
Making any of those ‘ ideas a reality requires funding to be allocated. This 2024 LTP is the last chance for the Commissioners to allocate the extra funding needed for their Civic Centre project, and to decide whether or not to progress any of those other projects.
The Te Manawataki o te Papa Civic Centre project got the initial green light through an amendment to the 2021 LTP, made by the Commissioners in 2022. It added a museum, an exhibition centre, a civic whare, waterfront upgrade and other projects onto the previous plan to rebuild the city library.
The Civic Centre now needs extra money to be allocated in this 2024 LTP, because TCC hasn’t secured enough funding to deliver the whole project. That is partly because it was relying on more government compensation for the loss of Council’s three waters assets (no longer happening) and partly due to TCC only securing $21 million from TECT for the museum at this point.
The Council brought this problem upon itself. We clearly told TCC last year that the Civic Centre consultation was flawed, and that the council needed to be upfront about the numbers. We said they should tell ratepayers they would not only end up paying $151.5 million of “rates funded debt” (now likely IFF funded debt, costing ratepayers even more), but they would also have to fund much of the remaining amount required to meet the total cost of the project (which included the waterfront upgrade) – now over $400 million!
The ‘chickens’ are now coming home to roost and the Council has to choose between two bad options:
a) Sell its two CBD parking buildings and some other assets, and hope TCC staff can fund the remainder of the project from central government and BOP Regional Council ,
b) Borrow the extra money required, meaning each median residential ratepayer will pay significantly more than $1000 per year just for the interest costs on the city’s debt!
Or it could look at a third option:
(c) Don’t sell the two parking buildings, don’t sell other assets, don’t build the international exhibition centre, and scale back the Civic Centre project to just a library and regional museum – which means ratepayers would not have to borrow as much money and debt would be more manageable for future generations.
This 2024 LTP will be the proof of whether the Commissioners will leave behind a sustainable plan to guide Tauranga through the coming decade… or a mountain of debt for future generations. We’ll take a look at how their plan is shaping up in that regards in our next post…