Stalled inner-city revamp in jeopardy

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014
Southland Times photo
Norman Elder

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The negative attitude several city councillors have towards the stalled inner-city upgrade is putting its future in jeopardy, the former upgrade boss says.

The new council, elected five months ago, has not even discussed the multimillion-dollar upgrade in formal meetings.

The upgrade was given the go-ahead in August but, six months later, no action has been taken.

Former city councillor and CBD upgrade boss Norman Elder said the council's complacency around the upgrade was causing some investors and businesspeople to lose confidence in the city.

Councillors maintain that the upgrade will go ahead but say it has to be done right.

Mr Elder said the upgrade plan had been three years in the making and appeared to be a long way from being started. "I think most businesses in the CBD are wanting certainty around the upgrade and to know that it will go ahead."

Waiting so long to get started ran "a very big risk" of investors building outside of the CBD or changing their minds about the future of their businesses in Invercargill, Mr Elder said.

"That's what I am concerned about, it's about the delays. They have been waiting three years for this particular plan."

Mr Elder said if it did not begin soon, the inner city would be "very bleak".

"The business owners just want to see a real commitment."

Some councillors' negative comments around the upgrade could turn some businesspeople away from the city, he said.

"It's disappointing to see the negative comments around the plan."

Inner-city working group committee member and former carpenter Nick Hamlin echoed Mr Elder's thoughts about the upgrade needing to be started soon.

"I think there's developers out there who will just charge ahead anyway, regardless of what the CBD does or the council does."

But there was still "a big proportion" who were relying on the council for guidance, Mr Hamlin said. "They just want to see something happen. Everyone is sort of waiting, waiting, waiting."

He believed that some investors would understand the predicament the council was in, but it was disappointing the momentum had slowed down.

Inner-city upgrade working group chairman and city councillor Graham Sycamore conceded he was being "over-cautious" about the plan but said good things took time.

The CBD upgrade plan also relied on private investment in areas such as Wachner Place, where an area has been earmarked for a development, so it was a catch-22 situation, Cr Sycamore said.

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However, he believed things would progress soon. He could not give a start date. The issue was yet to come up before the full new council, which was elected five months ago, he said.

However, he conceded that Mr Elder was right about several councillors' attitudes towards the upgrade, saying some had "shown their colours" during the election.

Cr Sycamore said he had been guided by Mayor Tim Shadbolt to slow down the upgrade process.

Mr Shadbolt said it was hard to balance the demands of the business community and the views of the ratepayers.

He acknowledged the upgrade had slowed right down, blaming the change in pace of the upgrade on the new makeup of the council and negativity of some of the election campaigns towards the upgrade.

"Those who campaigned against it did really well in the election."

But Mr Shadbolt said he appreciated the hard work the steering committee had done and understood they may be feeling let down.

"They will be feeling very disappointed.

"This is just one of those issues where you are damned if you do and damned if you don't."

- The Southland Times

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