22 5 2020
Mayor Steve Chadwick claims the $210 million shovel ready projects for Rotorua submitted to the government for economic stimulus funding will “support transformational change for our district and economy.”
This assertion should and must be challenged before going any further. I challenge the notion that the projects will support substantial transformational change within our communities.
The council has interpreted the post-COVID-19 Build Back Better catchphrase literally.
As such, it is planning to build bigger, better buildings, roads, cafes, restaurants and swim and biking facilities based on the presumption that these will bring back the tourists and return the economy to the way it was.
The council appears unwilling to consider the possibility that tourists may never return in pre-covid numbers.
In contrast the government uses the same Build Back Better catchphrase to describe building a more equal society, one where everyone has a roof over their heads, food on the table, a meaningful job, and where the environment is protected.
The government understands that people who have lost jobs due to COVID-19 are more commonly low wage earners from the tourism and hospitality sectors.
However, the council is undertaking large commercial projects that require the expertise of professionals and companies with large machinery. Such projects will not necessarily benefit the majority of our local unemployed people.
Examining our shovel ready projects
The projects are listed below. The information is drawn from the council’s website.
1. The Aquatic Centre project involves repairing the outdoor pool, building a Learn to Swim pool, a hydroslide, water splash attraction, bombing pool and poolside gymnasium and enlarging change rooms and administration areas.
It is estimated the project will create 80 jobs in design, professional services, supply chain and construction. The number of full-time jobs and time frame for completion are not provided. It has an estimated cost of $23m.
The question is whether these add-on activities are fit for purpose in the 21st Century recreational facility. At best they are a “fun park” entertainment, but they fail to complement Rotorua’s extreme sports reputation whereas a heated wave pool would attract visitors in line with our mountain biking and forest trekking attractions.
2. The wastewater treatment plant project will upgrade the treatment plant to allow for improved removal of nutrients and increase capacity to cater for future population growth. It is expected to create 50 jobs (no details provided) for a two-year period and has an estimated cost of between $60-65 million.
The failure of the council-Scion “World-first” Terax technology project means this project must be carefully and publicly scrutinised.
3. The Lakefront project involves building jetties for commercial operators, restaurants, cafés, kiosks and ticketing offices (numbers undisclosed) and developing Ohinemutu Village (no detail provided). The project is expected to employ 28 design professionals, consultants, contractors and sub-contractors and suppliers during the construction period, (not given) and provide employment in tourism.
4. The Whakarewarewa Forest Hub 2 project involves the construction of commercial buildings including retail, café/restaurant, an office and a storage facility. The forest hub project is expected to create up to 100 jobs for a minimum of 12 months. The estimated cost is $13.9m.
Note: The council has subsequently supplied information that the number of people required to work on the Lakefront and the Forest sites combined varies depending on what work is being carried out at any given time. To date, this adds up to about 30 full-time equivalents at any given time employed on each site. That does not include any sub-contractors that RLC contractors bring in to undertake pieces of work as required.
5. The Airport Hangar project involves building a hangar park for storage. It is expected to create work for up to 300 design professionals, consultants, contractors and sub-contractors and suppliers. The council estimates the total cost at $17.2 million but has asked for 50 per cent from government.
6. The Airport industrial park project is described as a construction project that will diversify revenue. It involves the development of an industrial/business park to provide industrial land for logistics, manufacturing and other commercial industrial uses. The council estimates it will create up to 200 jobs for design professionals, consultants, contractors and sub-contractors and suppliers of material. The council has applied for $13.35m which is 50% of the total cost.
Note: Neither of the Rotorua Airport projects takes into account the current downgrading of the Rotorua Airport’s status after the withdrawal of key Airways Corporation tower facilities.
7. The Lake Rotoehu reticulation project will connect Rotoehu to the East Rotoiti/Rotoma network, improve water quality and reduce the financial impact on local ratepayers. It is expected to create 15 jobs for two years and cost an estimated $10 million.
8. The Urban Land Development project proposes SH30 upgrades of four intersections at Wharenui Rd, Brent Rd, Basley Rd and airport/Eastgate and stormwater infrastructure to help the development of Maori land and enable housing and industrial development. It is expected to create “hundreds” of jobs in housing and has an estimated cost of $30 million.
Are we really ready for a climate change economic future?
The aim of the government’s shovel ready economic stimulus funding is to provide jobs. The majority of Rotorua people who have become recently unemployed or are about to are from the hospitality and tourism industries. The shovel ready projects provide work for design professionals, consultants, contractors and sub-contractors and suppliers. These projects will only minimally help Rotorua’s 20,000 low paid workers from hospitality and tourism who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.
The lake and forest hub tourism projects were chosen by council because they could not attract private investors. That should indicate that such investments are at high risk of failure, but the council is forging ahead with the projects anyway.
The council is also forging ahead with building restaurants and cafes which will compete for customers with existing businesses that are struggling to remain viable in this COVID-19 economy.
Should council build a $14 million cafe and restaurant on leased land at Whakarewarewa forest when the lease is due to expire in a few years?
Should council build cafes and restaurants on the lakefront when the future of tourism in Rotorua is so uncertain?
If the government approves these shovel ready projects, will the planned cafes, restaurants, kiosks and ticketing offices, the hangar park and airport industrial sheds be constructed with locally grown timber? Rotorua Lakes Council adopted a “Woodfirst” policy in 2014. At the ForestWood 2018 Conference Mayor Chadwick said the Rotorua District was "way ahead of the game" when it came to building with wood.
How will the council ensure that these planned buildings showcase Rotorua as the forestry hub of New Zealand and more locally grown trees are also processed locally. This would benefit locals by creating more jobs in wood processing.
Will the council require that the planned housing development houses be “passive” houses and “climate safe” houses which have lower CO2 construction emissions, solar power, improved insulation, lower electricity demand and will have storage for the collection of rainwater? Houses that are built today will need to protect the occupants from the predicted extreme weather events climate change is set to deliver in what has now become the near future.
Rebuild and Protect
Is the council leading the charge to rebuild Rotorua’s economy and protect the community from climate change?
The government will require Rotorua Lakes Council to show how the shovel ready projects meet the criteria for economic stimulus funding. Minister of Finance Grant Robertson says government intends to support investments that will hasten the conversion to a low carbon economy, provide encouragement for small scale entrepreneurialism and reduce inequality in New Zealand. A committee will consider each of these projects through a climate change lens and assess and compare the greenhouse gas emissions of each project. They will want council to demonstrate not just how many jobs each project creates but whether the jobs will go to the people who need them the most. If government and council support the people most affected by this economic crisis and undertake projects that truly benefit our community and do the least harm to our climate and environment, they will have helped create a fairer and more caring society. That would be truly transformational.
The Rotorua Lakes Council was asked to reespond regarding the inclusion of climate change aspects to the COVID-19 recovery projects
Strategy Group Manager Jean-Paul Gaston provided the following statement :
Projects were required to be able to start within six to 12 months, and needed to provide economic stimulus and jobs.
Rotorua Lakes Council was careful to ensure that our projects met the criteria, including the need for projects to be able to start within 6 to 12 months and to provide economic stimulus and jobs. We did not come up with new projects but put forward projects already planned but not yet funded.
Resilience to climate change and protecting and improving the environment are key components of three of the projects submitted by Council – the proposed wastewater treatment plant upgrade, sewage reticulation of our lakes areas (in this case connecting Rotoehu to the new Rotoiti/Rotoma network) and new infrastructure to support new housing and development near the airport.
Projects submitted for consideration by Bay of Plenty Regional Council include Ngongotaha flood protection works which our councils are working on jointly, alongside community representatives.
Supporting the recovery of Rotorua’s tourism industry, which has contributed more than $800 billion per year to our economy and has been part of our district’s DNA for well over a century, is part of the district’s – and New Zealand’s – economic recovery plan. The aim is to keep businesses and sectors going and people in jobs, as well as encourage innovation and diversification.