Call me crazy, but sometimes Council meetings are downright entertaining. Like today’s meeting of the Hastings Council’s Community Services Committee.

Some great moments …

The meeting was chaired by Councillor Bowers, who this week had her budget-protecting green eyeshades on. [Two weeks ago she was throwing $2.5 million at Splash Planet.]

First in her bulls-eye was $14,388.36 sought to cover a budget shortfall of the Clive War Memorial Swimming Pool Trust. To make a long story short, because their heater had broken down, the water and air temperature has been too cold to swim. So swimmers have stayed away from the popular facility. Without clearance from HDC, the Trust bought pool covers to try to keep the water warmer, and went over budget.

Councillor Bowers bore in relentlessly on the presenter, but the money was eventually awarded. If only she would have subjected Sam Kelt and his consultants to this kind of rigorous questioning.

Then came what appeared to be an exceptionally well-prepared draft report titled: Hastings Play Strategy.

This document makes a cogent case for a major investment of as much as $5.3 million spread over ten years (or about $500,000 per year for the math impaired) in playscapes throughout the district. The report compares HDC’s level of investment to other areas in NZ, discusses the shabby state of some existing facilities, and responds to specific needs identified by public consultation to date. The staff was tabling this recommendation, as well as options for lesser spending amounts, as fodder for the upcoming decisions, after public consultation, on HDC’s ten-year plan (LTCCP).

Again, Cynthia was there to protect us. $20 million for the sports park, OK. $2.5 million for Splash Planet, OK. But $5 million over ten years for play facilities in local neighborhoods that children might actually use (and their parents might appreciate), that was asking for too much. Better to nip that proposal in the bud here and now. We’ll get enough “social capital” from the sports park.

Helping Councillor Bowers protect the treasury was Norm Speers, who assured us that in his sixteen years as a Councillor, no one ever came to him asking for more playgrounds. That’s because they didn’t have the patience to stand that long in line behind all the roadbuilders, Norm. I wonder if Councillor Spears has ever met a 35 year-old ratepayer with 2-3 kids under 10 or 12?

Not to be outdone, Councillor Twigg weighed in. Her concern was for a gated community. Had anyone asked them if they even wanted a playscape, she asked. Their concern, she indicated, would be that if a public play area was created behind the gates, then the security of the neighborhood would be compromised. I can see it now, an invasion of frenzied 3-year-olds clambering over the spiked steel shafts of the gates, screaming: “Me first on the swings!” Call the Police!

Ultimately it was agreed that the proposed spending level would be considered in a wider context when the Council came to terms with the draft LTCCP it would propose for public consultation.

Then there was the discussion of the three-year “Active Hawke’s Bay” project, intended to get targeted unfit populations exercising and eating properly. The results reported sounded rather mediocre … more energy seems to have gone into surveying people rather than actually delivering services. But in fact, no one really knows if the program accomplished anything, given that the effort coexisted with literally dozens of other local and national outreach and educational programs with overlapping objectives. Oh well … maybe we’ll do better with sports park “programming.”

Finally, things got serious. Discussion turned to what to do with the now-closed Roy’s Hill Landfill site. Various pleasant options were being discussed happily — an area for BMX/mountain biking, a place to fly radio-controlled planes, a picnic area with fantastic views. All sounding terrific.

But then, wet blanket that he can be, Mayor Yule asked a simple question: Is this one of the 3,000 contaminated sites in HB just identified by the Regional Council, and do we know what our risks and clean-up responsibilities are likely to be? Answers: Yes. And No. That was a show-stopper!

I guess the staff deserves some credit. The following sentence does appear in the Council’s briefing memo: “As a contaminated site lying over the aquifer the site is a very sensitive environment that requires special care and attention.” But until the mayor asked his question, Councillors didn’t seem at all perturbed. Maybe the word “contaminated” is too … unfamiliar.

Can’t wait to spread my picnic blanket out there!

And so the HDC world turns.


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1 Comment

  1. You make a good point, Tom, about play facilities in local neighbourhoods, where, as you say, children might actually play. I know the Wavell Street /Lumsden Road end of Akina well, There are lots of kids around the area with no place to go and nothing for them to do. It's a ghetto which is a nursery for bored youngsters to become crims. Akina Park is too far away and in any case there's no equipment to play on or paved area, so they are using the fancy new roundabout on the Copleland and Park Roads intersection – a danger to them and passing traffic. A few dollars spent there now might well save plenty in other costs to the community in the near future, and make for a safer and happier area.

    I would rather some of my rates money was spent there than on Splash Planet or a sports arena, both of which will likely drain more money each year for decades than it would take to do something really helpful for some people who cannot afford to do that sort of thing for themselves.

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