Businesses: Tidy up your empties

COLIN WILLIAMS
Last updated 10:51 06/06/2012

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Upper Hutt Leader

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Vacant properties in the city business area should be maintained by their owners, not with city money, a narrow majority of councillors have decided.

A detailed plan to improve the look of empty properties and enhance the Main St shopping, at $20,000 a year after a first-year $10,000, was voted down by the city's representatives at last week's final annual and long-term planning hearing.

While a $150,000 marketing strategy was approved and a city centre management function created, councillors were in the majority against the proposed spending of public money on improving private property.

The improvement programme was touted as a way of "improving existing vacant properties and land to ensure the business environment is enhanced, rather than falling into disrepair".

The programme was to have included the temporary landscaping of sites of the vacant properties, the removal of graffiti and rubbish and repairs of broken windows and other vandalism.

"There's no way council should be funding this in any way," Dave Wheeler said in opening the debate.

He wondered if there was the ability to "invest in a bylaw" as a way to fix the problem, a call echoed by Pat Christianson.

Later Mr Wheeler suggested action from the tardy property owners could be achieved "through shame and humiliation".

"[Advertise] their names and phone numbers and they will start changing their tune."

Cleaning up the buildings would also set a precedent for the good owners.

Deputy mayor Peter McCardle considered the idea had merit and was striking the right balance on an important issue.

It was regrettable some owners left their buildings in very poor condition, which "significantly impacted" on the way the city presents to visitors, he said.

"We have been in contact, trying to get them to act responsibly. Some have been there for years, detracting from our good work.

"We need to get in there because they are just not doing the job," Mr McCardle says.

Hellen Swales suggested the proposed project's budget "wouldn't go anywhere," saying there must be other ways to work with the owners, perhaps making a building's upkeep part of tenancy agreements.

The vote for the introduction of the property improvement programme was lost 5-6.

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