The reminder that it was my turn to write a column for BayBuzz arrived in my inbox on the one year anniversary since my election as the mayor of our beautiful city. So what could be more fitting than a reflection on the past year, the good, the bad and the ugly.
The 2019 – 2022 triennium saw the election of a new mayor (namely me), five new councillors and seven returning councillors. A diverse range of elected members with more females than males for the first time ever here in Napier, ages ranging from early 30s to early 70s, our second Maori councillor (the first having been elected in 2016) and a wide range of backgrounds, knowledge and experience. It has been a pleasure to work alongside and get to know each of them over the past twelve months. We may not always agree when debating an issue at the council table, as we shouldn’t, however we do all agree that the community is first and foremost in every decision we make.
For me personally I entered my first term as Mayor determined to follow through with my campaign promise of a council committed to engaging with our community in an open and transparent way. Over the past twelve months I have initiated a number of initiatives to achieve this including:
- review of the Code of Conduct & Standing Orders;
- the live-streaming of all Council & Committee Meetings;
- summary videos for Facebook after Council meetings;
- introduction of my Town Huddles, in person and on Facebook Live;
- daily Facebook videos during COVID alert level 3 and 4 (51 days in total);
- the use of Facebook Live Q&A sessions for our Annual Plan consultation;
- introduction of a monthly email newsletter (you receive this if you have signed up to receive your rates notice by email).
I note that BayBuzz has conducted a survey on how our local councils engage with our community so I am looking forward to the results of that to see how we’re going. I will continue to strive for new and innovative ways to ensure our community are kept informed and provided with as many opportunities as possible to have your voice heard.
The start of the new triennium saw some immediate challenges with a number of contentious issues flowing through from the previous term.
One in particular was very personal for me, being the return of the correct name on the Napier War Memorial Centre and I was very pleased when this was actioned in December 2019. We are continuing to work on the restoration of the war memorial elements to the site and a reference group consisting of the local RSAs, heritage and community representatives are currently working with the architects on the design concept. It is taking longer than anticipated, however it is vital we get it right and I look forward to sharing the design concept with the wider community.
Water of course continues to be our number one priority and this year we are spending an extra $10.9 million over and above what we had originally planned to spend. In addition to that we have received funding of $12.1 million from Central Government for our three waters delivery which has enabled us to do even more in this area. At the top of the list is clean drinking water and fixing the ongoing dirty water issues that some community members have been experiencing. So we are fast-tracking the projects to address this and are aiming to have these finished by the end of this year.
We have also commissioned a review of our drinking water treatment options to see how we can move to a chlorine-free water supply, the draft report is due this month and will help us plan the next steps.
Other projects of note which have moved forward this year include the new library, with the decision made to return this to Station Street. Work is about to commence on a masterplan for this area which will also include the new civic building. And the controversial aquatic centre development, on which we have pressed ‘pause’ and are testing for contamination on the Onekawa site to help us decide how to move forward.
No wrap-up of the year would be complete without mentioning Covid-19.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the many people who pulled together to get us through both the lockdown and the months that followed. Thank you to the many community organisations such as Age Concern and Te Taiwhenua O Whanganui A Orotu who provided food parcels to those in need. Thank you to the council staff who were required to work throughout the lockdown, many doing their normal roles and also assisting with the civil defence response to ensure essential services were maintained.
And thank you to our community, individuals and businesses alike, who followed the guidelines throughout the various alert levels so that we are now able to enjoy our beautiful city and country relatively free of the fear of this disease, certainly compared to many other countries around the world.
We still have much work to do over the coming months to mitigate the ongoing impact of Covid, however I have confidence that we will continue to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for our community.