Tauranga’s Civic Redevelopment – Expensive Concrete Jungle or Affordable Green Paradise?

by Jo Wills and Glen Crowther

Tauranga City Council is calling for feedback  on the city centre redevelopment, a chance (as Commissioner Tolley put it) for the community to decide ‘’…do they want to be part of creating a vibrant exciting centre city…or do we just want an ordinary civic centre and rebuild the library and do a bit of landscaping.” 

The problem with this is that the artist’s impression of the commissioners’ preferred option is the only one being presented. This isn’t good community consultation, or even real consultation.

What’s more, there is no business case for any of these developments. There is apparently a “refreshed” library report, and an updated museum business case that is still “a work in progress”. However those reports were not made available to the public to help formulate their feedback about this project, so locals are effectively being asked to make their choice based on an artist’s impression!

Ironically, this type of approach was one of the criticisms of the previous elected members, which the commissioners were mandated by central government to improve.  Community consultation was promised an overhaul. Yet we are getting even less choice nowadays, with only a select few groups being directly consulted, and the broader community hearing nothing until the pre-determined outcome is presented as an “option”.

In other words, the process to get to this point has been flawed. It prioritised the voices of those with influence and it shut out any alternative viewpoints. This is a big deal. The lack of genuine community engagement and blatant disregard of good democratic process is scary.       

However, there’s another equally concerning issue. What, if any, mahi has been done on the masterplan proposal to understand the sustainability impacts on the wider city?  What will future residents say about this development, which TCC states is “the largest Tauranga city residents will see in a generation”? To be good ancestors, we must look past the delusions of grandeur that these sorts of developments bring and ask some challenging questions.

It’s been touted that this Civic Precinct Masterplan will “put Tauranga on the map”.  The city is already on the map, but for all the wrong reasons: high carbon emissions (our emissions have increased more than any other part of NZ), a housing crisis, increasing deprivation, poor urban planning, the lowest mode share of any NZ metro city for public transport and cycling, and many polluted waterways.

How will a $303 million city redevelopment solve this sustainability crisis that we find ourselves in?

The design document for the refreshed masterplan explains the inspiration and aspirations for the space, with greenery spilling over the rooftops and down to courtyards full of busy looking folk.  A space where we can come together for experiences and connection, for enjoyment, culture, and community.  Yes to that vision! But at what cost?

This list shows the proposed projects and their estimated capital costs. What we are not being shown are the operating costs and the costs that are being externalized because of this proposal. It’s likely that no-one involved in this project has looked at the latter, let alone calculated them. That’s no longer good enough for a city already staring at increasing environmental degradation and social injustice.  

Some of the key questions people need answered:

  1. What are the projected carbon emissions (embodied and operational) of the overall project, including the big plazas and giant ‘sand towers’? These are the essential costs of any new development that need to be understood to be good ancestors. There are new, low carbon, green building standards that should be a high priority for all civic spaces. Is this development going to incorporate those? Will there be ‘living buildings’? What tools have been used to calculate emissions? Where is this information, or does it not exist?

  2. How will this destination be accessed? How is this development supporting a modal shift towards public and active transport? Where is the public transport interchange and the links to the cycling network?

    One of the most exciting things about travelling to a modernised city centre is not needing a car.  More cars equal more emissions. The CBD is the one place that’s often easiest to get to and from by bus. If the Council’s own “once in a generation” civic centre is not going to be based around accessibility to public transport, then it seems highly unlikely that they’ll design Tauriko or other new developments in a way that residents will ditch their cars for travel to work.

  3. What other city amenities will not go ahead for this masterplan to happen? Which suburbs will miss out on much needed investment into libraries, housing, community spaces, and transport infrastructure?

    Hotels, exhibition centres, and museums are arguably great amenities, but for who? With all the social and environmental issues that Tauranga is facing, should we be investing so much in these experiences for visitors at the expense of the wellbeing of local residents?  

    Who will miss out because of this massive CBD redevelopment? Will government funding be used up on this massive project, rather than spread across the city? Will Council and central government still be able to provide their promised “affordable housing” for our communities? Will they provide elder housing for our kaumatua and elders that don’t own their own homes? What about some much-needed accessible housing for people with severe disabilities?

    Will TCC build a much-needed library in Brookfield-Bethlehem? And another library in Tauriko later this decade? What about the long-awaited bus interchanges in Brookfield and Greerton? Safe cycleways for kids to bike to and from local schools? And a greenwaste transfer station on the western side of the city to replace Maleme St?

    NONE of those high-priority projects have got a green light from council. Can TCC guarrantee that most of those projects will happen in the next decade without further big increases to our rates? We’ve looked at their budgets and don’t think that’s possible.

  4. Why does TCC show $151.5m external funding for Option 1, but no external funding for Option 2. That is comparing an apple with a banana. TCC has already confirmed that 1/3 of that amount comes from the government’s “No worse off” compensation for the three waters reforms, so it will be available for either option.

    $48.4 million is Tauranga’s share of that funding, and they will get that before the reforms are implemented. Then there’s some additional “Better off” funding available (either way) if the reforms are implemented as planned.

    Putting it simply, much of that external funding will still be available for a scaled back civic redevelopment or for local community projects, so that should have been explicitly stated in the council’s document.

  5. Why are there only two options to choose from? What about providing us with some cheaper options? The Greerton library was built in 2016 for about $4.5 million. Let’s round that up to $10 million in today’s dollars, to account for the massive inflation on recent construction projects. We could build the equivalent of four Greerton libraries in the civic block for less than half the proposed $83 million library!

    That’d allow two Greerton-sized libraries for the main library space in the central city, plus another whole library for the archives, plus a fourth to house the “community hub” and TCC’s Customer Service Centre. You could build them together in one multi-story building, to further reduce costs and the building footprint. So the question is why only give people an $83 million option?

    Think of what we could do with that extra $43 million! We could build cycleways for children in Arataki and Papamoa to safely bike to and from school each day. We could provide much-needed accessible housing for our disabled residents. We could fast-track some of those other community projects mentioned previously. Or we could keep our city’s debt and rates under control, so life is a bit easier for future generations.

  6. As for the museum…
    We are in favour of a museum, we strongly support mana whenua being at the table, and we love the idea of showcasing local history (Mana Whenua and European). However, we are not prepared to support a $106 million museum just yet. The questions to be answered first are:

    a) What kind of museum do we need? One that showcases local history, or one that focuses on international exhibits (as TCC has said it wants)?
    b) How much should we spend on this museum to get the best ‘bang for buck’?
    c) How can we make this the most sustainable, cost-effective museum possible?
    d) What are the operating costs? Given that the ‘rule of thumb’ is that annual operating expenditure equates to more than 10% of capital costs, that indicates at least $174 per ratepayer per year for just the museum’s opex! And surely it’ll cost a lot more than the standard operating costs to bring in a few international exhibitions?

    Council was told in 2018 that a regional museum could be built for $20 million. Let’s be generous and call that $40 million in today’s dollars. Chuck in some extra design features and a few other bells and whistles and round up to $50 million … and that’s still less than half TCC’s proposal!

    Why do we need to spend $106 million? Who will use this museum? Will it be mainly locals, or visitors from outside the Bay? Will they spend up large in local shops and cafes? Or will it be school trips who come and go from the CBD by bus? Or (high carbon) cruise ship passengers who spend their time at the museum, rather than their money with local businesses?

    Show us the business case first. We hear council wants something bigger and better than a regional museum, one that showcases international exhibitions, but do locals want to prioritise that or some of those other community projects? Why weren’t they given that choice?

  7. What is the environmental plan for the demolition of the existing buildings and the construction of the new buildings?

  8. What is the $25.6 million wharf? We have revamped Coronation Wharf so many times that we need to be shown a plan that clearly shows what we’ll be getting in return for that additional investment.

  9. Why are we focusing so much spending on the CBD and Te Papa? Over $1.1 billion is planned to be spent in that small area of Tauranga by the late 2020s. Yet the ‘SmartGrowth’ plan calls for providing facilities that enable locals to “live, learn, work and play” in their own communities.

    We can’t afford to spend that much in every community. We can’t even afford to spend that much in each of the SmartGrowth ‘centres’: Te Papa, Tauriko and Papamoa East. Sustainability is about long-term strategic thinking and making informed tradeoffs, and we need to prioritise our environment and our people before we blow it all on vanity projects.

  10. Where is the greenspace? Green roofs might look cool, but green space at ground level is more valuable. Concrete and paved areas have high embedded emissions, so these big concrete buildings with big concrete plazas are not an environmentally-friendly option.

There is no excuse for civic leaders to be pushing through any development (of any kind, at any scale, in any location) that doesn’t stack up on sustainability grounds. The opportunity is certainly there to make Tauranga’s CBD more attractive, but not like this.  

Tauranga could have an amazing civic centre and waterfront. One that supports regeneration through an exciting, Aotearoa-first urban wilding project. (Encasing trees in concrete doesn’t count!)  This would be a genuine point of difference for the city and likely gain national and even international recognition. We could follow Tuhoe’s lead, with their living building, and show how the built environment can enhance the natural environment. 

This approach would build on the CBD’s beautiful harbourside setting. It would secure long term operational efficiency, reduce operating costs, and lock in resilience in the face of resource scarcities.  We could create a people-centred space that provides for locals of all demographics as well as visitors, while not taking away from our city’s special neighbourhood places.

This isn’t anti-development.  It’s a plea for a systemic approach to be adopted, rather than worn-out rhetoric that gives those that stand to benefit from economic growth the keys to the city.

Taking an inclusive and sustainable eco-city / regenerative path will confront the influencers responsible for bringing us the towers and concrete – but it will not destroy their long term vision. The outcomes they say they want, the vibrancy, the visitors to the area, and the legacy will still all eventuate. They just won’t come with a big price tag that the environment and our communities can’t afford.

Note to reader:  Tauranga City Council is asking for feedback on the civic redevelopment and you can make a submission until 26th April by clicking here.  If you agree with any parts of this article, please feel free to include them in your submission verbatim, or to put things into your own words.


  1. Great Commentary Glen. Having had a strong financial background, including Audit Committee for another Council, my observation to you is: The Strategy, Audit and Risk Committee function is weak and conflicted. No way, should 4 commissioners be sitting on this committee, processing information, predetermining outcomes, to be rubber stamped at so called Governance level. I’m seeing a lot of undesirable Governance ‘structural’ issues, which clearly aren’t helping in terms of this spend thrift philosophy. Where is the independent oversight of suitably experienced and qualified individuals, who can robustly challenge the financials tabled by Management? The Committee needs more than one technically competent member – (Bruce Robertson) formerly of Audit NZ.

    1. You make some very good points Keith. Bottom line, we need to see the business cases, the detailed costings, the operating expenses, and much more sustainable design. Then, by offering a range of options, comparing ‘apples with apples’, we could find out what the public really prefers.

  2. Great article Glen. You raise some very good points. Surprised to see the museum wants to have international exhibitions. A grandiose idea, the focus should be on Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty. We have a rich history that should be celebrated. The whole design looks a little stark. I would love a better connection to the harbour.

    1. To be fair Paul, I’m sure they want to display our own history, but the crucial point is whether you need a $106 million museum to get best value. I can’t imagine them covering the extra costs for this grand museum from admission fees.

  3. Glen, not to repeat the above observations I would like to ask what can/should we do to show the commission that their processes and plans are not acceptable. The self-serving submission options provided are not a way through this over-burdensome and seemingly ill-prepared proposal.
    There must be a more direct way to demand accountability.

    1. There are various options to demand accountability, but I’m not sure if any will actually get that outcome. We have tried to speak truthfully and openly about the positive and not-so-positive things that have been happening over the past year. However, when we discovered that more than 15 community organisations and their supporters were unhappy with the Cameron Rd project, and met with TCC to raise our concerns, we realised that they were not open to a different perspective. We can only hope that TCC changes its approach, but of course that means people need to submit their views about the council’s plan and TCC needs to change its proposal, and at this point many people we know just say “what’s the point submitting, they never listen anyway”. And as you said, the submission process is not the best way through, because the Commissioners may just end up saying that they’re listening to the other people who didn’t make submissions… which is exactly what they have done!

  4. Same goes for the closure of Links Avenue. Why does it have to be a blanket closure, not just for the time school children go in and out. Why can’t the residents of the streets off Links use the Concord end. If it is to “save the children ” they are not going to school at weekends or after hours. No one will answer these questions. No child has been hurt in the 30 years I have lived here

    1. Kathleen, that’s a very good question. We have asked that question too, as have others, but we still haven’t heard the answer. When 98% of residents don’t support the plan, you’ve got to ask why Council doesn’t change the plan.

  5. Well Done Jo & Glen
    That’s a good piece to get thinking about what these types of schemes actually represent.
    I would contend that these mega projects are destined to failure in the medium to long term as they are monuments to a way of life that has passed.
    Our whole pattern of urban development has been irrevocably altered over the last 2 to 3 decades, and a couple of years of pandemics and workplace changes have only hastened this process.
    I contend that the idea of a central business district is archaic, old world euro-centric thinking. It’s defunct and the we can see the evidence with our own eyes in the slow decay and decline of the downtown blocks.
    You allude to this in your discussion points noting the idea of connected centres – a loose grouping of smaller villages, each connected into a wider matrix. This is not to say that we can’t have amenities the serve the region, but it no longer makes sense to group all these things together, to try and privilege a historical form, that is no longer really relevant.
    It all feels like trying to force through a think big scheme, to rekindle the glory days of yore, when we can aim for something much, much better. Much more resilient, reflective of the communities that they serve, able to adapt and heck, maybe even inspire.
    Imagine that.

    1. We think you’ve nailed one of the key issues Stephen. The SmartGrowth UFTI programme has already decided there will be 3 “connected centres”: the CBD, the second centre at Tauriko, and a third in Papamoa East. SmartGrowth rejected the top-ranking rail-based development model, as well as an “urban villages” model (Otumoetai, Bethlehem, Greerton, Mount, Arataki, Papamoa, etc.), which is more what you’re talking about. Unfortunately, UFTI did not undertake public consultation, so most people have never heard of UFTI, let alone had a chance to convey their views about which option they want for our city. Yet it is the core issue: do we want to pour our money into the city centre and sprawl up the Kaimai and our past Papamoa, or invest it into making our city more sustainable? Or can we do both? So far, most of the money is going into supporting the growth agenda.

  6. You ” are in favor ” of a Museum – why. The ratepayers have already given an overwhelming NO to this. Your approach is no different to the current unelected commissars – white over 60 males from Papamoa have no voice whatever. Its those obviously uninformed racist members of the community who just happen to pay most of the rates in this city are to be ignored on principal – why.

    1. We are in favour of a scaled-back museum. Our view is that the people of Tauranga clearly didn’t want, and probably still don’t want, a big museum like the $55 million one proposed in 2018. The referendum showed a clear majority were of that view. However, we would love to see a referendum or polling on a cheaper option. Even in 2018, there were a lot of people who said no to the $55m option who still wanted a museum. One that showcases our unique history, but isn’t going to cost anything like the planned $106 million option.
      We are happy for people to disagree and just say no to any museum – that should be up to the people who live here to decide, not appointed commissioners. Our biggest concern is that most people we know are (understandably) so cynical about giving feedback to TCC that they think the Council will ignore them if they have a different view, so they don’t even both submitting. Sadly, that’s what happens when democracy is taken away.

  7. Good post Glen and Jo.
    I think the issue here is how do you decide what an appropriate amount to spend is? Is it $100M, or $400M, based on what? A ‘business case’ wont help you with this as the benefits are generally all intangible.

    What is clear is that we need a decent arts space, museum and we sorely need investment in that part of the city. We prob need a library too, although I am not across the future of libraries as others are.

    More than anything though, we need people living downtown. I hope this investment goes some way to encourage the private sector to build apartments and bring people (and vibrancy) to the city.

    Somehow the Council needs to progress this efficiently, while ensuring good design, sustainability, value for money etc. Maybe they should run a design comp?

    Agree with Steve on the connected centres stuff, but think we do need to think big on this one.

    1. You make some good points. We don’t want to under-invest or over-invest. However, whether it’s in the business case or not, we think the Council should clarify a few things BEFORE getting the public’s views:
      – Pros and cons of a regional museum (similar size to 2007 and 2018 proposals) v an “international” museum (2022 proposal is “almost twice the size”, almost twice the cost)
      – Why has the library cost increased by 70% in one year, from $49m in 2021 to $83m in 2022, yet the proposal is apparently still the same as the 2021 library business case?
      – Where is the evidence that $26m needs to be spent on yet another redo of the wharf (the umpteenth time that has happened in our lifetime)? Yes to improvements, yes to a place for a cross-harbour ferry to dock, but why $26m? Show us the plan first.
      – And lurking behind all those questions is the big one… Why did TCC sign an exclusive deal with Willis Bond, to give them the exclusive right to develop any Council land in the central city between 2018 and 2030? The result has been secret meetings, lack of transparency, and no competitive tendering for the design of the civic centre.
      Hence the Commissioners are now saying it’s a choice between Option 1 and Option 2. It shouldn’t be a choice between large, ugly, high carbon buildings and concrete v an expensive library and no museum.
      We want to see Option 3: smaller, greener, cheaper buildings (especially in terms of operating costs), more greenspace, and much more transparency around outcomes and costs.

  8. I specifically asked at the recent TRA Meeting with Commissioners, “Why was there no 3rd Option for the Civic Centre Questionnaire?” there was no direct answer, in fact, the whole point was ‘lost in Spin’ by Anne Tolley. No-one in their right mind would want to spend $303M on a “faceless stand of Silos”! We are not an agricultural city, and the eyesore tanks at the Port, if that was the intended connection for style, do not represent Tauranga City. Apart from that this city cannot afford, FFS financing or not, anything like what is being proposed, even on Option 2 at $127M. Neither of these two options will being people back into the city, regardless of the fact that $9M was paid by TCC to Farmers to re-building on Devonport Rd. They were quite happy to stay in Tauriko.
    The Commissioners are not listening to the Ratepayers of Tauranga. Their allegiance is to Mahuta, however you cannot have two Masters, and they would be wise to acknowledge that the Ratepayers’ Bank pays their expenses, for which Ratepayers expect good value for money – This is NOT what they are getting!

    1. Yes Robyn, we are also concerned at the apparent lack of open-mindedness to anything but Option 1 and its ‘silos’ (maybe we could stockpile some grain there for the bad times).
      FYI, the “Elizabeth St” (AKA Farmers) project was more than $9 million, and ended up even higher after another $0.6 million costs were approved earlier this year.

  9. Redevelopment of the City Center is presented with fanciful sketches reminiscent of “communist” grandeur for the privledged few inhabiting what could become a central suburb. The vibrancy will be generated by developers and investors,( known to the commissars), big corporates, property companies, building and infrastructure contractors, consultants, etc, all excited for their slice of the multi $million pie. However, Grain silos may have more merit than communist-type monoliths( in these times of impending food shortages because Govt has allowed much premium vegetable growing land to be covered in concrete and asphalt to the extent NZ may need to import vegetables.
    The way to rejuvenate the CBD is to make it a prime destination but not by clogging it with buses, vehicles and expensive parking buildings. Introduce sustainable passenger rail with an iconic central Stand railway station terminus connecting to light rail along Cameron Road to Pyes Pa, and other arterials, (as outlined in my submissions) This will form an enduring sustainable asset and convenience for all being the backbone for planned redevelopment as it occurs.

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