OPINION: We might need to expand our definition of swinging voters.
Cr Darren Ludlow cited two sharply conflicting pieces of public feedback when he spoke at Tuesday's Invercargill City Council meeting to adopt, or postpone, the master plan for revitalising the inner city.
"You buggers should be lynched."
"You need to grow a pair."
In the end the councillors made the gutsy call, and the right one, to risk the lynching and adopt the plan even in the knowledge that more than a few of their electors were going to feel mightily angry.
One of the most contentious aspects - the first-up proposal to reduce Dee and Tay streets to single-lane status to make the idea of crossing them less daunting for pedestrians - was defused by the assurance that there would be a period of robust testing first. And that this decision would not ultimately rest with local government zealots but with the rather more implacable New Zealand Transport Agency, which has the say-so over state highways even when they pass thorough inner-city areas.
However, two aspects of the plan do remain sticky - the funding estimates keep heading upwards and there's alarm that the council is getting ahead of itself while the fate of so many buildings that need earthquake strengthening remains unclear. Mayoral candidate Lindsay Dow is among those who believe it premature to press ahead with the plan before at least initial assessments on earthquake work are made, but the key word there is "initial". Given that there's at this stage a 15-year timeline for bringing quake buildings up to standard, the project would develop the metabolism of a sloth if it is calibrated against this.
The council will need to be careful about finance decisions that will be made as each of the precinct projects comes up for development. Its finance chairman and the project's working group leader, Norman Elder, insists that by adopting the plan, councillors have not adopted the cost - the individual follow-up steps of designing the individual stages and tendering for them would bring this into focus.
But there's no getting around it that the public, and indeed most of the councillors, were left for too long with an initial estimate of $6.682 million that was clearly scarcely realistic. The very consultant the council hired to prepare the master plan, Craig Pocock - en route to swaying at least a couple of undecided councillors - caused an intake of breath when he acknowledged that even when he was being interviewed for the job he had told the working party that the budget wasn't enough. Now that that estimate has doubled in short order, the escalation is all the more giddying.
Extensive public consultation has brought the project this far during the term of this council and those among the public who are now acting as though these ideas have been revealed out of the blue really haven't been paying much attention. The plan does reflect extensive public input at the initial stages, and then when the earlier "action plan" was adopted.
For all the unfortunate connotations of the phrase, this subsequent "master plan" is not the finely detailed construct that so many people assume it to be. Rather it is a concept within which a great many decisions are still left to be made. The overview is there, yes, but many details are far from set in stone. But wheels can now start turning to get some of this happening. Which won't, by the way, be at a headlong rush.
A few years down the track people will be going crook at the council for taking so long. Because there's still a lot of work - and consultation - to be done.
- The Southland Times
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