Councils not great retail developers

THE PLAN: Architects’ drawings of the planned $1.2 million retail development at the Mapua Wharf.
THE PLAN: Architects’ drawings of the planned $1.2 million retail development at the Mapua Wharf.

Mapua, and in particular the wharf area, is among the region's more significant go-to areas.

When coupled with the burgeoning Sarau-Upper Moutere area, this part of the Tasman District offers year-round for a Sunday drive, and is immensely popular over the warmer months.

Ever since an unsolved arson claimed Mapua's Touch the Sea aquarium in 2011, the site has lain fallow, costing the Tasman District Council in lost lease money and looking an eyesore.

So it is timely that the council is acting to solve those problems, even if there are some questions over the actual plan.

Given the foot-traffic generated by the wharf's pulling power, a 550sqm commercial retail development housing five businesses is fitting.

The main debate, and it's largely philosophical, is whether the council should be involved in new commercial developments, or whether it ought to have sold or leased its land to specialist private developers.

There are is also the question of whether a full third of the development cost should have been dragged across from the insurance payout from another fire victim - the old Takaka library building, burnt down in 2010.

Unfortunately for Golden Bay, the terms of the policy meant the proceeds had to be spent on a commercial building, and so were not available for public buildings.

Councils generally are being discouraged from involving themselves in commercial activities in order to concentrate on their core functions.

Though many are substantial landlords in their own right it is questionable whether launching into brand new projects as commercial developers is a sound move, especially a council with a debt level that is inappropriately high.

The council seems also to have a fondness for spendups in the Mapua area. The good folk of Golden Bay, Murchison and Motueka might feel hard done by in comparison, particularly when Takaka misfortune is helping to fund the latest Mapua project.

It might also be questioned whether there has been sufficient consultation with the wider community about the details of the project. Is it the sort of development the Mapua people want there? Has it come at the expense of potential commercial projects in other parts of the district where a kickstart might be more meaningful? And no one will be happy that council debt is to grow by up to $800,000 more in order to pay for a commercial development.

On the plus side, the account will be a "closed one" with no further support from rates or other council money. We are told that the council had confidence to proceed because of the high level of interest from tenants, which is reassuring.

Presumably the development will soon be contributing to council coffers rather than being a debt-servicing drain on them. That's no bad thing - but councils are not commercial developers, and generally should leave this line of work to the experts.

The Nelson Mail