2018 Tauranga By-Election

Scroll down for the information provided by John Robson for the 2018 Tauranga By-Election.

Joking?

No-one is laughing

Over the next 10 years, Tauranga's population is forecast to grow by 15%.

Over the same 10 years, Councillors are proposing to increase staff costs by 56%, increase rates by 120% and increase debt by 177%.

And they are going to build a $55 million museum.

But these headlines don’t tell the whole story.

What they don’t tell you is that Tauranga, according to the Taxpayers Union, already has the highest average residential rates of any metropolitan Council.

And that some commercial ratepayers will see rates increases of more than 70% over the next three years.

What they don’t tell you is that Tauranga is proposing to increase debt more than twice as fast as Auckland over the next 10 years.

And that the Museum’s running costs are estimated at $5 million annually.  

Clearly the proposed budget is neither affordable - nor remotely funny.

The purpose of this website is to identify key issues driving the budget excess - and suggest how a more affordable budget might be delivered.

In short - how we can get real change - and it starts with the Council's 'vision' for Tauranga.


Notes:

I was elected to Council in 2013. My term (2013 to 2016), where I chaired the new Finance and Risk committee, delivered a significant increase in infrastructure investment while lowering debt and controlling rates.

Vision

Blue Skies and Heads in the Clouds

The budget has has been driven by a CEO and a group of Councillors who want Tauranga to be an "internationally competitive city" - and who have instructed the staff to develop a budget accordingly.

This ill-defined 'vision' has resulted in conversations that imagine Tauranga competing with Sydney to be the headquarters of a major Australian bank.

And has culminated with a Council Corporate Services function that includes "blue sky thinking" as one of its activities!

In short - the 'vision' has resulted in a budget that is not connected to the reality of Tauranga.

The Councillors need to keep their feet on the ground - and, anyway, we already have real blue skies which is why so many want to come here.

We can start to address this budget-blowing disconnect by simply going back to the vision of the previous long-term plan, which was "successfully managing a growing city".

After all, our reality is that we are one of the fastest growing cities in New Zealand already - and the challenge for our Councillors is to manage that growth successfully.

Which leads to the next step.

Councillors should insist that the principle "growth pays for growth" must be a key component of the management strategy. 

I have no doubt that the staff would respond positively to this clear instruction and deliver a budget that is significantly more affordable.

They did in 2015.

This new budget would require trade-offs, but this is why we elect Councillors in the first place.

Their job is to deliver the needs of the city effectively and efficiently.


Notes:

In my experience, Council is poor at cost management - with its biggest weakness being the repeated failure to include internal and/or overhead costs when budgeting. The worst example of this in my term was the 'Civic Heart' project when a $500,000 budget resulted in a $1.5 million spend - after internal costs were included.

Transport

Roads are key

Transport is a massive issue for Tauranga, and according to the Acorn Foundation's Vital Signs research, it is one of the biggest priorities for the region.

A fact driven home by the 1891 submissions to the Regional Council on its proposed Land Transport Plan.

The bottom line is that our roading system is failing.

I believe that under-investment (over many years), blind ideology (roads bad - trains/buses/cycling/walking good) and irrelevant benchmarking (comparing Tauranga with Copenhagen) has left us with a road network that even TCC management describes as fragile.

Currently the "average speed across key parts of the transport network is 23 km/hr".

And if there is any problem (accident/breakdown/work) on the roading network, there is insufficient 'redundancy' (spare capacity) on alternative routes to cope.

It is clear that Tauranga has made the same mistakes as Auckland in terms of planning, sequencing, funding and land-use - and this needs to change.

The latest 'solution', proposed by SmartGrowth (a body designed to address planning, sequencing, funding and land-use) is to form a sub-committee!

Former Mayor, Stuart Crosby, blames paralysis by analysis - yet advocates coma by committee.

The answer lies with Councillors providing clear direction via the CEO to staff that Tauranga's infrastructure must be a priority, and that the underinvestment in the road network must be addressed.

Which is not to ignore other transport modes.

Both Stuart Crosby and former Regional Council Chair, John Cronin, have spoken in the past about the potential positive impact of free school buses.

I support an urgent analysis of the idea, and if viable (as I believe analysis will prove it to be), its rapid implementation.

And, in closing this section, I have not forgotten funding.

One source that we must look to is the Regional Council.

The Regional Council has proposed increasing its average rates to Tauranga residents by 67% over the next three years - largely due to its proposal to remove the 'subsidy' on the bus network.

Yet I would wager that the Tauranga ratepayer is subsidising the Regional Council - by carrying the significant costs the port imposes on the city while the Regional Council collects the port's profits.

It is time for the Tauranga ratepayers' subsidy of the Regional Council to stop - and for the Regional Council to compensate the city.

Auckland was paid a $51.3 million dividend by its port last year - Tauranga, home of NZ's "largest and most efficient" port, got nothing.


Notes:

As someone who has built a 'green' house, and bought an electric car for the city, I am certain that an effective and efficient roading system is much greener than one that is congested and failing.

A 2016 report on Auckland, "Transport Solutions for a Growing City", provides an instructive insight into the impact of neglecting roading infrastructure - see: https://infrastructure.org.nz/resources/Documents/Reports/NZCID%20Transport%20Solutions%20for%20a%20Growing%20City%20Report.pdf

Consultation?

Responses to Council's proposals

Reduce UAGC to 15%:
I support Council's recommendation


Introduce a commercial rates differential:
I do not support Council's recommendation.

I support the idea in principle, but the implementation is far too aggressive.  Changes to differentials should be over far longer timescales, as Auckland is doing.  The effect on commercial ratepayers is punitive.


Targeted rate (resilience):
I do not support Council's recommendation.

The term 'resilience' is ill-defined, and I am not currently confident that the rate would fund 'additional' work.


Targeted rate (city centre):
I do not support Council's recommendation.

The term 'enhancement' is ill-defined, and I am not currently confident that the rate would fund 'additional' work.


Transport network focus:

I do not support Council's recommendation.

The options create a false choice - the right answer is to do both option 2 (increased transport choices for everyone) and option 3 (increase road capacity).


Kerb-side waste:

I do not support Council's recommendation.

I support the idea in principle, but I would like to see its implementation brought forward.  I do not accept that it will take 3 years to implement if the will is there.

The waste charge should not be fixed, but be based on weight and/or volume (the technology is already available) to incentivise waste reduction.


Kerb-side glass:
I do not support Council's recommendation.

The 'new' situation is, according to reports, recycling more glass than the previous.  The focus should be on implementing the full kerb-side service.  This is a panic measure.


Museum:
I do not support Council's recommendation.

I note the Council has failed to price the cost of any alternative museum option. The combined option does not identify the 'museum' cost.

I would consider a (scaled back) combined option as a combined option is the only one to produce a net economic benefit.


Library:
I do not support Council's recommendation.

I cannot support an option which does not consider the future needs of the city.


Tsunami alerts:
I support Council's recommendation.


Elder housing:
I support Council's recommendation.


Funding Tourism BoP:
I would be guided by the response of commercial ratepayers.

Missing...

There are many topics which are not mentioned in the consultation document.

Many become apparent only if you read the full annual plan.

Some of these topics are, I believe, of greater significance than some of the topics consulted on in terms of their financial and/or other impact.

An obvious example from my time on Council was the level of rent charged to Women's Refuge - Cr Leanne Brown took the lead and that was soon sorted.

At the other end of the scale is the deal between property developer Paul Adams and the Council with regard to development rights in Te Tumu.

There is an option for Mr Adams to buy back the rights that he sold to the Council over 10 years ago.
When the deal was originally done, the promise was made to ratepayers by the then CE that the deal would cost them nothing.

Yet when I was on Council, I became aware that ratepayers were paying circa $1 million a year to service the debt that funded the purchase of the rights.

If Councillors are considering not recovering all the costs, then that is a much bigger topic than something like the short-term kerb-side glass collection proposal.

Then there are all the areas of expenditure that are the subject of previous decisions.

I think there is an argument for revisiting some of these in the light of the concerns about the resilience of the city's infrastructure.

Again, when I was on Council, we were given assurances around infrastructure which turned out to be less than reliable.

My point here is that Councillors must ensure they are across all of Council's activities - not just the topics in the Consultation Document, or the agenda of their committee.

Waste Management

The headline issue is glass recycling.

I do not support the proposed rates-funded weekly glass collection service.

I believe that the simplest and most cost-effective solution is that all supermarkets and bottle stores should be required by Council to provide free glass collection facilities on site.

This solution is based on the principle of making the 'waste' source responsible for addressing the problem.

It also has the added advantage of not requiring any rate-payer funding.

On the wider issue of waste - the current 'user pays' system does have the advantage of putting a price on waste - whereas the proposed 'Council-led' system does not.

I have yet to hear a convincing argument that the change will produce clear benefits - either to the environment or the people of Tauranga.

Although I do see that it will effectively allow Councillors to increase the city's debt without breaching debt/revenue ratios.

Perhaps that explains the change of position on this issue by some Councillors.

Tourism

The "billion dollar" headline boasted by Tourism Bay of Plenty is a vanity metric.

It sounds impressive - but what does it really mean?

The truth is that tourism, while big, is not the most productive of industries.

The fundamental question facing Councillors is why should all commercial activity be taxed to support one sector.

I note that the Council does not 'invest' in the Chamber of Commerce.


Notes:

Rather than make vague promises, I have outlined on this page my responses to the proposals outlined in Council's 'Consultation Document'.so that you have some idea about where I stand and can cast an informed vote.

If you are not familiar with the issues in the Consultation Document, you can download it here: https://www.tauranga.govt.nz/Portals/0/data/council/long_term_plans/2018_2028/files/ltp_consultation_document.pdf

Guarantee

Keeping promises

If I am elected, all salary for the rest of the term will be placed in a trust

Next election, if re-elected, the trust will pay me all the accumulated salary

If I am not re-elected - then the trust will pay a percentage of its funds to the city - depending on my share of the vote.

For example, if I only get half the votes I need to get re-elected, then the trust will pay half its funds to the city

If no-one votes for me, the city gets everything.


Notes:

Last election, this guarantee cost me $58,000 - and, I'm happy to make the same promise again.

Questions

... and Answers

In this section I will post my answers to any questions you might have - to ask me a question, e-mail john@clearthink.net or call me on 021 443703 or (07) 579 1427.  To see the questions and answers, just scroll down this page.

How can I help you get elected?

Firstly, thank you. If you would really like to see me on Council, then use your networks - talk, text, tweet, e-mail your endorsement to everyone you know who is eligible to vote.  A personal recommendation is invaluable.

Why the signs?

I have previously rejected signs on the principle that I don't want people voting for a 'sign' - I wanted voters to cast an informed vote.  But the fact is that signs create name awareness and this influences voters.  The two Councillors who nominated me said if I was serious about getting elected then I must use signs - as they have done successfully.  I am serious, and you can see the signs. 

Response to Greater Tauranga

Heidi Hughes of Greater Tauranga asked candidates to answer six questions via a two-minute video.

I don't believe that the the questions can be anwered 'properly' in a two minute video, so have replied as below:

List 5 solutions to Tauranga’s traffic congestion, ranked most important to least important. Keep answers brief.

Solving Tauranga’s congestion issue will require the implementation of a number of complementary initiatives – starting with having a sustainable city plan – which doesn’t exist at the moment.

That being said, I have, as requested, listed five (in my opinion, politically, economically, and environmentally viable) initiatives that I believe would have a positive impact – in no particular order:

a) Free school buses – and an upgraded bus service.
A relatively low-risk, low investment, quick win

b) Complete multi-modal transport network ‘corridor plan’ – and implement land retention/acquisition to support.
Protecting the corridors is critical for the future – and never cheaper than today

c) Complete and maintain a functioning arterial road network (much of the planning work has been done).

Our current size, density, topography and forecast growth make road infrastructure the backbone of our transport network (because the best public transport option is the bus) for the next two decades at least.

As such, talk of passenger trams, light rail, heavy rail, ferries, metro’s, etc. should only be in the context of completing the long-term ‘corridor plan’ – they are not currently viable solutions to current issues.

Thinking ‘green’, a flowing network is greener than a congested one – and the movement to electric propulsion addresses much of the fossil fuel issue.

d) Instigate an inland port
This would combine with rail to minimise port road freight within the city ‘ring-road’.
Obviously, there is a need to ensure road and rail mode separation (e.g. Totara St.) as part of this solution.

e) Design, complete and maintain a separated functioning arterial e-cycle/cycle network.
The design focus should be resident transport rather than tourist attraction.
Secondary and Intermediate schools should be key nodes

Free school buses or user pays?
See above, and my signs, my ad in Bay of Plenty Times, my website – free.

Does Tauranga City have the right amount of car parks. If not, briefly outline your solutions.
In the CBD, no – elsewhere, generally, yes, but we need to have a conversation with the DHB re the hospital.

We need to build parking buildings in the CBD – with funding in part from (targeted) rates, effectively mirroring the funding model in other centres in Tauranga, i.e. some level of collective provision.

We should also reinstate the requirement of a minimum parking provision for CBD buildings – either incorporated in the building, or added to the ‘public’ provision.

We also need to sort the integration of the bus service with the CBD.

What solution to Tauranga’s problems with traffic congestion is most often raised when you talk to voters?
It depends on the demographic of the voter… most common ‘solutions’ are:

“Sort the roads…”

“Better bus network – more, more often, for longer…”

“Get the cycle network built…”


What would you do to fix the problems on SH 2, Tauranga to Katikati?
As with Tauranga’s roads, there are a number of complementary actions required, including:

a) Improve design, using something like Highways England’s 10 Principles of Good Road Design as a guide – especially “make road safe” and “make road understandable”.

b) By-pass Katikati.

c) Urgently initiate safety measures, starting with side and median barriers.

d) Provide more safe overtaking provision.

e) Slow the development of housing, until the road requirements are addressed – Omokoroa is a repeat of the mistakes of Welcome Bay

f) Complete the four-laning of the primary, SH29 to SH1, road link to Auckland – to move inter-city traffic, especially road freight, off SH2.

g) After all the above… look at the Tauranga Northern Link (TNL)… or rail (see next question).

Disclosure: My home abuts the proposed TNL.

Do you support regional passenger rail, Tauranga to Auckland?
I have followed this idea with interest for some time – including the Regional Rapid Rail proposal produced by Greater Auckland.

One thing I have noticed is the confusion in the arguments used by those who are ardently either “pro-road” or “pro-rail”. I am neither – I am pro-evidence, and pro-sustainability.

The first ‘confusion’ is a lack of clarity as to what regional rail means – it is not ‘commuter’ nor is it ‘city to ‘city’, yet I hear arguments about Tauranga to Auckland travel times.

If that is understood, then I believe regional passenger rail is a long way off for the region.

If people are talking about a ‘city to city’ service, then, at the moment, the Benefit-Cost Ratio doesn’t stack – bus is cheaper, air is quicker – and rail is stuck in the middle, with a significant investment required to effectively test viability.

Personally, I feel that a three-year Auckland to Hamilton pilot for ‘city to city’, ‘regional’ and ‘commuter’ services should be tried.

The results of a properly funded pilot should provide a better starting point for turning ideological argument into evidenced debate.

At the moment, my view is that, for Tauranga, ‘city to city’ and ‘regional’ rail is at least a decade away – and for commuter rail, the timeframe is probably two decades.

Authorisation

This website is authorised by John Robson, 22 Sunny Downs Drive, Tauriko, Tauranga, 3110 - e-mail john@clearthink.net or call 021 443703.