Alex Wright

Northland Chamber of Commerce Questions for Whangarei Mayoral Candidates 

  1. How will you be part of a movement that will see business growth and accelerated rates of new business establishment; facilitate ease of business, a fairer approach to rating, zoning, consents and other unnecessary barriers?
    By bringing together, working and engaging with the key people in our District.To bring together key stakeholders for Whangarei’s business district; elected members, city planners, business leaders, Northland chamber of commerce and anyone who wants a say by February 2020. (The need for the District’s Community Leaders to be included in this conversation is vitally important as well)

    We want sustained business and employment not just the peaks created by major project builds. The city planners and council processes must be streamlined. Council needs to have the strength to make bold and sound decisions around key projects.

    A rates review to bring Whangarei into line with other districts around New Zealand. Obviously we need to admit that rates are not going to change in a hurry but the rates that each demographic pays should be spent in their area.

    Zoning needs to move with the times. The central business district has changed. It is now more of a living and entertainment space rather than shopping. Inner-city living and socialising needs to be encouraged.

  2. How will you prioritise the establishment of key infrastructure vital to economic wellbeing (example SH1); Further, Council has failed to deliver key projects valued at more than $30m, how will this be resolved going forward?
    By sitting around the table with the appropriate people to formulate a plan for the establishment of key infrastructure projects. We need to remember that increased spend on our District’s infrastructure will drive employment which in turn will greatly improve economic well being.Council has land, it could be time to realise those assets in a combination of sales and leases to create modern affordable housing. Asset sales would release funds for major projects. We must work with central government to drive trade apprenticeships.

    We will need to drive our message to central government for the SH1 upgrade south of Whangarei. Hammer away at the people supposed to be championing Northlands cause. MP’s, NZTA representatives. Council needs to court big national and international businesses, incentivise their investment in Whangarei. Review the development of contributions and consent levies.

  3. A number of New Zealand towns have committed to major redevelopment of their respective CBD’s, aside from beautification, how will council engage with the more commercial development needs of our CBD?
    Already more than one group is wanting to establish events and performing arts centres in Whangarei. Ask them what they need. With little return on money in the bank is it time an investment fund was set up in Whangarei for people with money to invest and business owners with ideas but no capital?It’s high time Whangarei had its own tertiary facility close to the social centre. Invite the larger universities to have canvasses in a dedicated CBD facility. People aged 18 to 30 are the ones with the inclination to get the CBD humming.  Let’s organise more activities and events to attract foot traffic.

    Shopping is now done in the satellite centres.  However, what would be needed to attract a Westfield’s to Whangarei’s Central Business District

  4. What will be your focus when directing council support of the business community?
    Short term (3 months)
    To immediately invite before the end beginning of November elected representatives, business leaders, Community Leaders across the district and  Northland Chamber of Commerce to a gathering to get ideas from grassroots level so as to make plans going forward for our City and the rural sector. Get back on track with Council core business. To obtain an overview of all Councils spending in each department.  From this overview make sure that the relevant spend in each department is justified and adjust accordingly especially when infrastructure in general across the district has been neglected. To instigate a better reporting system within the Council for ratepayers complaints so as to better improve customer service. Better reporting by Council staff on road maintenance across all Council roads. We should not be relying on the eyes and voice of ratepayers to maintain and repair our Council roads. 

    Medium term (1-2 years)
    To review unfinished district capital projects carried forward.  To formulate priority lists for roading upgrades across the City and District. Transfer stations for our rural ratepayers. Review Council zoning Plans for changing the zoning to make affordable land available for housing. To have Whangarei District Council owned freehold land sold/available for public and private enterprise.Long term (1-3 years)
    Incentivise establishment of businesses interested in development in Whangarei.
    Court big business around NZ who are looking for opportunities for growth in Whangarei. The feasibility study for a Northland University.

Sheryl Mai

  1. How will you be part of a movement that will see business growth and accelerated rates of new business establishment; facilitate ease of business, a fairer approach to rating, zoning, consents and other unnecessary barriers?
    As Mayor, I acknowledge the role business plays in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Whangarei has many successful and strong businesses that are outstanding in their fields.  The manufacturing sector is led by New Zealand’s only oil refinery, NZ Refining Company, Culham Engineering delivers innovative and high-value heavy engineering projects throughout the country, extending the ‘buy local’ ethos to a national level, and who doesn’t own a piece of Michael Hill’s jewellery?I acknowledge that the Council’s rating approach is not perfect and there will always be tension between various ratepayer sectors. The job of the council is to navigate a pathway that is considered equitable to all. This is difficult. The retail environment particularly faces considerable challenges as purchasing behaviours of consumers changing. While the Council can review such things as commercial rates to stimulate investment, it still requires partnership with landlords, property owners and developers to create sustainable economic activity.It is easy to quantify the rates increases by being selective with data. What is important is that all ratepayers (business, rural and residential) feel that the contribution they make to our district’s success through their rates is reasonable and fair. Yes, rates have increased over the last five years.  But I am sure most people recognise that we have been improving the look and feel and amenities of our district, with a lift in the pride of our residents.

    Offering during a campaign to review rates and/or no rates increases is populist. I will not do that.  I also know some people are struggling with the low-interest rate environment impacting their budgets. I will do everything I can to keep rates as low as possible but we do however need to be realistic about funding essential services.

    We are in a strong position when it comes to appropriate zoning for business.  As a recognised high growth district, we have been required to monitor and report our capacity assessments, forecasting demand for land for housing and business development.

  2. How will you prioritise the establishment of key infrastructure vital to economic wellbeing (example SH1); Further, Council has failed to deliver key projects valued at more than $30m, how will this be resolved going forward?
    Key infrastructure includes water, wastewater, stormwater and transport networks. Infrastructure development does generate local economic activity. Most of the Council’s investments in infrastructure projects are delivered by local contractors, and we seek the best value for ratepayer spend in accordance with our Procurement Policy.No-one was more disappointed than the local government leaders from Northland with the dramatic change in focus of the Labour government to the planned improvements of State Highway 1 from Whangarei to Auckland.  We went to Minister Twyford to plead our case and we continue to state it as our number one priority for the region.  Government policy does not currently support investment in the four-laning project; however, the business case, planning and preparatory work continues, particularly from Whangarei to Marsden.Over the past six years, Whangarei District Council has increased capital investment from $29 million in 2012/13 to $57.2 million in 2018/19.  I accept that this was less than the $85 million we had budgeted in the Long Term Plan, but that was mainly due to the delayed start of construction for both the new Water Treatment plant and Civic Centre. The Water Treatment Plant is now well underway, and we have commenced the early planning for the Civic Centre.

    Infrastructure is not purely funded by current ratepayers.  Over the life of an infrastructure asset, such as a water treatment plant with an operating expectancy of around 50 years, current and future ratepayers contribute to the construction, operating and maintenance costs of that asset.  Rating agency Standard and Poors recently upgraded our credit rating to AA+ (positive outlook).  This puts the district in a great position to increase debt for developing infrastructure assets when needed.

  3. A number of New Zealand towns have committed to major redevelopment of their respective CBD’s, aside from beautification, how will council engage with the more commercial development needs of our CBD?
    Firstly, implement the City Core Precinct Plan.  Encourage inner-city living, consider incentives to encourage and fast-track this.We are preparing a development prospectus for potential commercial/partnership proposals.I will task our economic development unit to Identify the key players in the CBD (landlords, developers, retailers and tenants) and then liaise with them to achieve the best outcome possible for revitalising our CBD.  However, Council is only one player in this equation and it is up to all with a stake in our CBD, as well as other business developments, to work together.

    Prepare to develop an industrial park on the outskirts of the city to enable relocation of industries currently in Lower Dent Street, then implement the Hihiaua Precinct Plan.

    We could develop an Ambassador Programme for our city – hosts whose role it is to provide the ultimate experience for visitors whether they are here for sporting events, to experience Hundertwasser and Hihiaua, or to discover our vibrant city centre!

    Revisit and promote our incentives for owners of heritage buildings to improve the look and feel with subsidised paint, advice on colour palettes etc.  Perhaps have a competition for the best makeover?

  4. What will be your focus when directing council support of the business community?
    It is our job to make it easier for all businesses to do business, and to help create a district that attracts more productive business, to become a district that is known for being ‘business-friendly’.‘Business-friendly’ can be defined as the explicit attempts by local government and their partners (including central government) to reduce the regulatory and non-regulatory barriers, costs, risks and uncertainties in all forms of commercial activity to stimulate and support local business growth, local business retention, and the attraction of new business to the local area.There are two ways in which the council can directly help by providing business-friendly, ‘can-do’ service and maintaining excellent customer relationships, and creating a well-functioning district through quality decision making on the planning, regulation and development of the built environment, especially infrastructure.

    I will be laying out clearly my expectations with the Council chief executive of better and more timely communication from Council staff with businesses seeking to set up shop in our district or expand already established operations.  Delays generally mean more cost and risk, so reducing waiting time for communication and consents will be a target. There will be an expectation of staff to process consents and queries promptly, and constructive solutions found for developers and growth.  I will seek to improve on the positive culture within our organisation to meet the needs of the wider community, especially the business sector.

    We could enhance our existing service of offering the first hour free with planning staff to discuss projects – maybe offer 2 free hours?I believe a business-friendly council is more of a culture than a rules-based exercise. If we focus on culture, we can deliver huge gains, at little cost. Under my leadership, Council will focus on supporting existing businesses through our partnerships with Northland Inc, NorthChamber, and training providers and continue to build our relationship with key stakeholders to grow the health of our business community.

    I already have the ear of government, having spent considerable time over the last six years building networks in Wellington, working with both the National and Labour governments.  Council is currently in negotiation with a large Government department that is planning on moving to our district.  More details on that will be released when the time is right.

    Whangarei IS open for business and IS good for business.  Our population is growing as many leave the high-cost arena of Auckland.  Businesses recognise there is an untapped labour pool in the region, but especially our district, as well as affordable property prices and leases.  Central Government’s expressed desire to open up the rail link will make it easier to get goods to market and the North’s four local authorities will continue to put pressure on Central Government to four-lane SH1 from Whangarei to Warkworth … and then further North.

 

Tony Savage

  1. How will you be part of a movement that will see business growth and accelerated rates of new business establishment; facilitate ease of business, a fairer approach to rating, zoning, consents and other unnecessary barriers?I have been speaking to landlords and businesses all around Whangarei.
    There is on clear message about why they will not invest in Whangarei anymore: Council is just too hard to deal with.
    To fix that Council’s culture must change from “can’t do” to “can do”.Success summit
    One of the first things I will convene as Mayor is a success summit made up of business leaders to tell Council what needs to be done. Not talk and grand ideas, but practical time bound plans, to get business growth. My commercial skills will help get landlord’s and business on side, a skill sorely lacking in the leadership at present. I have set out my ten priorities to make Whangarei a centre of achievement and success. My plan includes:

    Use local contractors
    The commercial sector has had a raw deal from the Council in the last six years. Council has not justified why it charges commercial ratepayers between six and seven times the residential rate. And what’s worse, this Council isn’t prepared to back northland businesses. Time and again Council contracts are awarded elsewhere. Council doesn’t seem to get it that money spend here, is re-spent many times locally. Let’s get locals working.

    Fair rating
    In the last six years, the rates of a typical property in Whangarei has increased by 27%, while inflation has increased just 7.1%.I will initiate a full and comprehensive review of the rating system to make sure it is fair and affordable for all ratepayers, including rural and commercial ratepayers.

    Review the District plan
    While we need robust rules to protect what we most value in our district, the Council’s planning rules have gone too far. I will restore that balance by making the process people led not planner led.

    Cut red tape. Fairer fees
    I will initiate a full and thorough review of council fees and charges and development levies.

    More consultation and accountability
    The role of the Mayor is about engaging with the public and changing the culture of the Council to reflect the wishes of the community, not the wishes of faceless managers empire building. How we experience Whangarei, how we get about and how good our environment is are critical challenges we need to start thinking differently about. The status quo will not solve our current and future issues. We need to creatively solve these challenges.

  2. How will you prioritise the establishment of key infrastructure vital to economic wellbeing (example SH1); Further, Council has failed to deliver key projects valued at more than $30m, how will this be resolved going forward?
    The capacity to think differently about the Council’s relationship with the community is the place we must start. The old tired ideas just don’t work anymore. Would we ever think they would?The role of rail, our port and getting our link to Auckland safe, fast and reliable is a key decision we need to get right. Just how we maximise funding improvements for our road link to Auckland needs big new fresh thinking and energy or will languish as it does now.The highway between Whangarei and Auckland urgently needs to get up to scratch. The secret behind closed doors “forums” aren’t working. Whangarei needs to start taking the lead here, not looking for crumbs at the table.

    I have been a champion of getting reliable rail to and from Auckland and to Marsden. A port without rail won’t work

    I know how things work in Wellington. Those who shout the loudest and longest get the attention of central government. To be blunt, our voice is not being heard in Wellington. That means funds that should be spent in our district are going elsewhere. I can open doors in Wellington for Whangarei.

    Council is using the money set aside for big projects to fund its annual operational losses. That is unsustainable. Council must first start to live within its means.
    I will get the big projects we need such as infrastructure improvements, CDB upgrade, new educational institutions, hotels and arts venues by working as a strategic partner with developers, business, iwi, other local governments, crown agencies and central government to develop new growth initiatives.

  3. A number of New Zealand towns have committed to major redevelopment of their respective CBD’s, aside from beautification, how will council engage with the more commercial development needs of our CBD?Revitalise the CBD
    The Central Business District of Whangarei is dying. I don’t agree with those who say it can’t be resuscitated.
    I will make inner-city parking free and more convenient. It’s worked for other cities. It will work here too. Instead of making parking easier, our council has increased parking charges! I have been speaking to landlords and businesses all around Whangarei.
    There is on clear message about why they will not invest in Whangarei anymore: Council is just too hard to deal with.
    To fix that Council’s culture must change from “can’t do” to “can do”.Success summit
    One of the first things I will convene as Mayor is a success summit made up of business leaders to tell Council what needs to be done. Not talk and grand ideas, but practical time-bound plans, to get business growth

    I have set out my ten priorities to make Whangarei a centre of achievement and success. My plan includes:

    Use local contractors
    The commercial sector has had a raw deal from the Council in the last six years. Council has not justified why it charges commercial ratepayers between six and seven times the residential rate. And what’s worse, this Council isn’t prepared to back northland businesses. Time and again Council contracts are awarded elsewhere. Council doesn’t seem to get it that money spend here, is re-spent many times locally. Let’s get locals working.

    Fair rating
    I will initiate a full and comprehensive review of the rating system to make sure it is fair and affordable for all ratepayers, including rural and commercial ratepayers.

    Review the District plan
    We need robust rules to protect what we most value in our district, but the Council’s planning rules have gone too far. I will restore that balance by making the process people led not planner led
    Cut red tape. Fairer fees
    I will initiate a full and thorough review of council fees and charges and a review of Council’s development levies.
    More consultation and accountability
    The role of the Mayor is about engaging with the public and changing the culture of the Council to reflect the wishes of the community. How we experience Whangarei, how we get about and how good our environment is are critical challenges we need to start thinking differently about. The status quo will not solve our current and future issues. We need to creatively solve these challenges.

  4. What will be your focus when directing council support of the business community?
    Short term – I will convene a success summit of business leaders to set out a time bound detailed plan of what needs to be done. I will ask Council to bring in two-hour fee parking in the CBD. I will also initiate the review of rates and the District Plan. I will initiate a full and thorough review of council fees and charges.Medium term –I will work to change Councils culture’ so that it is supportive of development and growth. I will prioritise building a Council run car park for the CBD.Long term  – What is clear is that we desperately need to start thinking and planning 50 years ahead. How we experience Whangarei, how we get about and how good our environment is are critical challenges we need to start thinking differently about. Roads, water, stormwater and wastewater networks need planning and they cost a lot. Ratepayers alone can’t afford to pay for all of it. Smart planning and a more balanced approach to meet future needs are vital.
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