Motueka missing out on attracting funds

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 08:58 14/04/2014
Antarctica
BOOK LUST: These saucy Motueka librarians helped enliven the town’s 2012 Christmas parade but the town needs more serious sexing up.

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Alastair Paulin

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I have a confession to make. I've been cheating on Motueka.

More specifically, I've been cheating on the Motueka library.

I still love those saucy librarians but between the overcrowding, the lack of books, and the fact that I have to travel to Nelson for work once a week, I've been indulging my bibliophile's passion at the Richmond library. Every time I search the catalogue for a title I want, it seems to be in Richmond anyway.

Last week I walked out with four fat novels under my arm, a little dizzy with the anticipatory tingle of plunging into them.

The chances that I'll make it even halfway through one of them in three weeks are slim but book lust, like its carnal cousin, clouds my judgment.

The library was buzzing late on Wednesday afternoon, flush with teenagers using the Imaginarium digital creation studio or lounging in oversized chairs with books. Several people were browsing the fiction stacks alongside me, and unlike in Motueka, we had room to manoeuvre around each other and the library's 77,000 items with ease.

The space was airy, light-filled and attractive, the result of a 2010 $2.2 million renovation that almost doubled its size.

In contrast, the Motueka library's 36,000 items are housed in a building less than half the size it should be to serve its population, according to guidelines from LIANZA, the professional body of librarians.

A rebuild was deferred and has now been downgraded to $1.1 million of improvements, which would not increase its size. The budget is not enough to upgrade the library the way the town deserves, and sadly, that is part of a pattern.

Motueka is the district's lowest-lying settlement and the most flood-prone. Flooding is the biggest risk we face and yet the project to upgrade the town's stopbanks has been euthanised.

Some of this is the town's own fault: half a dozen years ago, when a $16 million rebuild of the stopbanks was being planned to coincide with a $19 million water reticulation project, both of which were to have been largely funded by targeted rates, Motueka ratepayers complained that they neither wanted nor could afford both projects.

The flood protection budget was lowered to $11 million and then, seemingly without any basis in fact, arbitrarily cut to $5 million. Further investigation revealed that no meaningful protection could be achieved for this figure, with the result that the project has been effectively strangled in a mercy killing, although Motueka residents continue to be target rated for the more than $600,000 of investigation and consultation that has been done.

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When I first moved to Motueka I suspected the complaints I heard about it being overlooked by a Richmond-based council were nothing more than little-brotheritis; the equivalent of the small suspect's complaint that his piece of cake was smaller than his older brother's.

To me, Motueka's chip on its shoulder was based more on historical slights and one-eyed parochialism than on actual discrimination.

But I'm coming around to the opinion of many in Motueka that the town is not getting a fair shake from the Tasman District Council. I'm not yet with those who see a conspiracy against the town but I do think that having staff based in Richmond leads to a form of bias: we're all more aware of what is in front of us and Richmond's retail health, or potholes, or blocked drains, or infrastructure needs, are right in front of the council's Queen St noses.

Sure, Richmond is the largest centre in the district and appears to be thriving at Nelson's expense but you can't attribute all its success to population growth. Between the 2006 and 2103 censuses, Richmond grew by 4.8 per cent and Motueka grew by 6.6 per cent.

As the editor of the Tasman Leader, I'm thrilled to see Richmond moving ahead. But Motueka is my home and I'm concerned that no-one is fighting for the town's interests around the council table. Our councillors don't seem to be advocates for Motueka and I don't hear their dissenting voices when yet another Motueka project gets canned.

I know councillors have got the message from ratepayers that mounting debt and rates are unacceptable but it's not as if nothing is happening in the district. I look at the success of a councillor like Brian Ensor at getting things done for Mapua - including a proposed council-built $1.2 million retail building on the former aquarium site - and conclude that the council will continue to make strategic investments in the district's future. Just not in Motueka.

By the way, one of Ensor's proposed sources of funds for that Mapua building is the account formerly known as the Motueka Harbour Endowment. Imagine the benefit to Motueka of investing in perhaps its most overlooked asset - the port and waterfront.

Motueka ratepayers need to understand that a dollar saved in Motueka is not a dollar less of rates: it is a dollar more to spend elsewhere in the district. They also need to understand that without a strong vision for the town's future and effective advocates for it, the town will wither.

Submissions to the council's annual plan close on Tuesday. It is easy to do and even a couple of sentences in favour of a new library, or flood protection, or revitalised port or tourism funding will help balance the predictable chorus of naysayers.

I may be cheating on Motueka but apathy is screwing it over.

- Nelson

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