OPINION: Be careful what you wish for. . . The New Plymouth District Council's proposals for businesses on the city's popular coastal walkway have inspired some interesting comments that highlight the challenge of local body management in such stringent times.
One of the ideas up for discussion as part of the council's review of policy around commercial use of parks and reserves is a tender process for businesses wishing to cash in on opportunities along our much cherished ribbon of coastal concrete.
The rights to operate and benefit from a walkway enterprise would be sold to the highest bidder, with the money boosting council coffers.
That idea appears to have polarised the community, with commentators either supporting the process as a reasonable and sensible way for the council to benefit from the popularity of the walkway or seeing it as another local authority money grab that will stifle business.
We believe it is more likely to be the former. If the New Plymouth District Council does follow up on this idea, and it is highly likely it will, then it should be seen as a natural progression reflecting the growing popularity of this now vital infrastructure and a desire and need to both benefit from it and manage that progress.
That's why businesses currently trading along the walkway, such as the Big Wave Cafe, began with a peppercorn rental before moving to a percentage of turnover. Now it is only fair and right that the commercial relationship is reviewed again.
Also, most would surely agree that businesses profiting from the surge of foot traffic along our favourite strip of concrete should make some credible contribution to its maintenance, and any campaigns to further promote it. Otherwise it's the ratepayers further subsidising the businesses. And we all know how popular that is in this district.
Ultimately, however, this is not really just about a review of the commercialisation of parks and reserves. There is a wider story here, a deeper and underlying context.
This council is under considerable pressure to address its own balance sheet and keep any rates rises realistic. Part of that major internal review is about looking at costs and services.
But disgruntled ratepayers shouldn't begrudge the council looking at the other side of the equation - increasing revenue.
If the council is to find the correct and politically sensitive balance between progress and parsimony, it needs to be astute, not only about what it cuts but where, and how it raises more money.
As the Americans are discovering in negotiations over how to avoid their own "fiscal cliff", one without the other cannot work.
Our situation might not be quite so dramatic, but it is obvious that generating income will be just as important as cutting costs. And that the walkway will not be the only yellow brick road.
So again, be careful what you wish for.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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