Cats and rugby pet subjects

TIM SHADBOLT
Last updated 13:58 31/03/2014
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OPINION: Poll: Life never seems to go to plan. Having achieved the lowest rate increase of any council in New Zealand I thought our Draft Annual Plan would generate quiet, relaxed euphoria.

But no! How wrong I was.

Thanks to our dear, much-loved pet cats, all hell has broken loose. It all started when our council decided to pass a bylaw limiting the number of cats you could keep as pets in a residential home. Three seemed similar to other cities, Masterton and South Wairarapa both have three and Hastings has four.

We didn't expect controversy. And let's be honest, council doesn't actually enforce its bylaws. It simply gives us the ability to respond, if we received numerous complaints from any neighbourhood.

When we received numerous complaints from a wide area about a household with 37 pet cats we decided to take action and it's turned into a public relations disaster. A simple semantic issue arose when cat lovers were informed council was providing traps for angry neighbours. Many people thought this meant gin traps and naturally there was public outrage.

The controversy has gone viral on the internet and both Richard King and the mayoral office have been flooded with emails and legal issues have been raised. We intend holding a public meeting to outline council's policies on cats and dogs.

Our relationship with animals has always been highly challenging and intensely emotional. I believe council has a duty to consult in every way possible with the residents and ratepayers of this city. The meeting will be held in the Victoria Room of the Civic Theatre on Monday, April 14.

The other issue that exploded from the deepest darkest depths of the Draft Annual Plan has been the future of Rugby Park.

I admit I'm a little biased because I'm one of the few city councillors who has played senior rugby in Southland. I have witnessed how important club rugby is in rural communities. I also believe rugby is part of our national identity.

It's the only sport in which New Zealand has consistently been the best in the world for the past 100 years.

We may not have actually won the Rugby World Cup all that often, but we still won more games at the Rugby World Cup tournaments than any other country, scored more points and more tries. It should also be remembered that six teams were coached by New Zealanders, nine teams have management staff from New Zealand and 38 players born in New Zealand played for other countries.

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Whether you personally like rugby or not is irrelevant. You've got to ask yourself: "Is rugby important to our nation?" If you believe it is then we have to nurture the nurseries of provincial rugby and invest in facilities.

In some ways I'm glad this issue has come to a head and I'm sure that we'll sort the problem out. I just hope we can achieve a long term solution rather than another patch-up job. I'm confident the city council will come to the party so long as every party comes to the party.

At present the key player to a solution is the Community Trust of Southland. They hold a $750,000 mortgage over Rugby Park and if a solution isn't found they will own it. That will give them two options. They could put in a gung- ho manager like Tom Conroy and run it at a profit or they could simply sell it. On paper, Rugby Park is worth $7 million, so they would recoup the debt.

The Community Trust of Southland is one of our region's great success stories. In 1988 the then-named Trust Bank Southland Limited was worth $20 million. With shrewd investment the Community Trust of Southland is now worth $192m. Per head of population it is by far the wealthiest community trust in New Zealand. In fact it is twice as big as the second biggest community trust in this country.

The long-serving chief executive of the community trust, John Prendergast, may at times seem like a ferocious gatekeeper rather than a great visionary leader, but when you have about $200m in a public trust you have to achieve a balance on that razor-thin line between generosity and caution. It's not easy. The trust has also played a significant role on Zero Fees, Venture Southland projects, Stadium Southland and the velodrome to name a few community projects.

The challenge of Rugby Park is probably the most complex and most perplexing issue it will face this decade. I'm still confident that this crisis will be resolved.

* Tim Shadbolt is Invercargill City Mayor


- The Southland Times

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