150 years of edgy symbiosis

19:46, Nov 27 2012

Congratulations to The Southland Times. There are not many businesses, organisations or institutions that have been operating for 150 years in Southland, writes Tim Shadbolt in Southern Focus.

A newspaper does a lot more for a community than simply printing the news. During campaigns to save our neurological services or attract tradesmen to our region such as the "We Need You" promotions, the support of The Southland Times was absolutely critical.

For less controversial projects such as organising the Santa Parade or fun runs from Oreti Beach, The Southland Times plays an equally vital role.

The Times and the council have a more edgy yet symbiotic relationship.

Council needs our daily newspaper to keep the public informed on events, projects and budgets. Our daily newspaper needs council to generate debate and discussion about civic affairs. The popular Letters to the Editor section also gives ratepayers a forum where they can publicly praise or chastise the council.

Over the past 19 years I've been both a news provider and a columnist for The Southland Times as they are without doubt the most politically influential media organisation in our city.


Sometimes the news is critical and sometimes it's positive. That is the reality of living in a democratic society with a free press. The media ensures that political and business leaders don't get too big for their boots.

According to international surveys, New Zealand is one of the least corrupt nations in the world. I believe our independent and robust regional newspapers can take a considerable degree of credit for this achievement.

Newspapers also provide us with an excellent written and pictorial history of our region.

Now I know I'm biased because I'm a news media junkie - I cannot start my day without first reading the newspaper and having a hot cup of tea. So many thanks to all those hard workers who help me sustain my habit. I hope you enjoy celebrating your sesquicentennial.

Now I don't usually use this column to respond to letters to the editor or bloggers, but as it's an issue that involves this paper, I'll make an exception.

The issue of the Don St car park began in September 2011 when council was approached by The Southland Times with a proposal to buy the car park off the council.

Part of the deal was that council would buy the old Times building in Esk St. There were lengthy debates over the cost of demolition while preserving the historic facade, but the majority of councillors felt the car park should be sold as this would keep the staff of the Times within the inner city. Some councillors felt that when the earthquake standards were raised several buildings within the city could be demolished providing us with plenty of space for future car parks. Negotiations were soon under way, but an agreement could not be reached and therefore the deal fell through.

Then Calder Stewart approached us with another proposal to set up professional offices, and there were hints that Preston Russell was interested.

I voted in favour of the proposal because that area of the inner city was fast becoming a professional cluster of lawyers, doctors, accountants and, generally speaking, I like to see development and construction going ahead.

This time the council was not convinced and the voting was six-all. With 13 of us around the table, it's very rare to have a draw, but on this occasion councillor Elder couldn't vote because of a conflict of interest.

Perhaps during every term in office I use my casting vote on two to three occasions at the most. Although I'm a radical at heart, I have strong conservative tendencies and in accordance with tradition I use my casting vote to maintain the status quo.

The question I faced was, "what exactly is the status quo?". Was it to return to the original proposal to sell it, or was it to return it to a long-term car park? There were, I felt, two status quos. I discussed my dilemma with councillors and decided that the original resolution was the most recent status quo and council's decision was to support development of the car park, even though the client had changed.

It may well be that no development takes place, but at least there is a chance and no-one can accuse council of blocking progress.

Decision-making is never easy, but in this case councillors genuinely weighed up the strategic implications of both options, requested detailed information regarding the revenue from the car park for the past five years, and the debate over the various proposals carried on for over a year before the final decision was made.

Did we make the right decision? Probably only time will tell, but I believe that, as a council, we did our very best.

If it does all turn to custard, I take full responsibility. As mayor it is my duty to do so.

» Tim Shadbolt is the mayor of Invercargill.

The Southland Times