Spending demands call for cool heads

Last updated 13:00 10/03/2014

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OPINION: Half a million dollars to - perhaps - save Tahunanui's dysfunctional modellers' pond. Almost as much again to - hopefully - restore the Maitai River to something approaching full health.

Another $242,000 to fix faulty drainage at Saxton Cricket Oval in time for next year's Cricket World Cup matches, even if no-one yet knows what has gone wrong there or even who is responsible. Potentially millions of dollars more to strengthen and reopen the Trafalgar Centre.

The new council team no doubt took office with a full range of hopes and ambitions for the next three years, tempered by the imperative to keep rate demands at reasonable levels. They would not have anticipated an ongoing series of fiscal hospital passes, primarily under the "parks and active recreation" header, appearing so early in their term.

Councillors will have to start making some tough decisions - as their debt-ridden counterparts in Tasman are being forced to do.

The modellers' pond is a drawcard over summer in particular and much-loved among many Nelson families, but they would get by just fine without it.

Any proposal to spend $500,000 on the pond - which has been playing up for many years - needs to be closely examined in the context of the total council budget. The issue has been kicked for touch in the meantime and will stay in the annual plan awaiting public feedback.

The council currently has a "managed retreat" policy for other parts of the Back Beach, including the threatened Tahuna Beach Holiday Park. Mayor Rachel Reese suggested last month the time was ripe for a review of that policy.

The future of the pond and other facilities in the area should be considered in light of that review rather than in isolation - and also against the wide range of other spending demands.

If it came to a straight choice between spending on the pond or the Maitai, the case for the river is much stronger, especially with the Back Beach area under threat of erosion.

Saxton Oval is also problematic. Hosting such events are good for the region. They bring income to a few businesses, some global attention and are something for sports fans and politicians to look forward to. However, councillors should ask whether the time spent using an elite facility of this nature warrants any more money being spent on it - especially when they aren't clear about what the problem is or who is liable.

As for the Trafalgar Centre: We should reserve judgment until the promised release of engineering information tomorrow.

But in the absence of that - and given the prohibitive replacement costs even if another site, complete with sufficient parking, could be found - surely it is a case of biting the bullet, allocating the $3m or whatever is needed to meet building safety requirements and getting the place functioning again. ASAP, please.

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- Nelson

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