The Mud - Are you standing for mayor in 2013?
Kevin Winters - Of course; come October the 12th my name will be on the ballot. And the reason I am standing again for my fourth term as mayor is that I haven’t finished the job yet. This role is not a short-term role. It’s a long-term role and I viewed that a number of years ago when I stood for the mayoralty in 2004. So, yes, we will be there again.
I’m only halfway through my role and the challenges and achievements are significant in what we’ve achieved in those eight-and-a-half years. My greatest achievement I believe is improvement in lake water quality. We’ve seen how in 2004 our lakes of Te Arawa were toxic. We’ve seen the algal blooms and I had coming into Rotorua, a mandate from the people to clean up the lakes. We have seen significant improvements. In fact, Lake Rotoiti was in 2011 named the most improved lake in New Zealand; and last year, for Rotorua, it was the best water quality it had been since the 1990s. So that’s a significant improvement for Rotorua. And all the other ones [lakes] we’ve got action plans, we’ve got programmes and initiatives for improving lake water quality. So we are seeing the results of that hard work started in 2004.
For RDC, we’ve seen significant construction of sewerage schemes; we’ve constructed about 2000 already into our urban waste water treatment plant. All those lake side communities, I’ve got about 1500 to go through Rotoiti, Rotoma, Rotoehu and Tarawera – so I want to see that completed as well.
TM - As far as being the mayor, you’ve got your aspirations and hopes for the future, does it matter for people who vote who is the mayor of Rotorua?
KW - Absolutely, absolutely; different people have different agendas. I was voted in with my background in agricultural science to get on and do these lake water quality initiatives and we’ve seen that. Also, being a very practical person and being a very common sense person.
We’ve seen a significant improvement in our venue facilities over the last nine years also. We’ve seen the museum behind me [from the window overlooking the Government Gardens] – 29 million dollar improvement. We’ve seen the Aquatic Centre improve. The Energy Events Centre, which has been a world class facility on our doorstep to bring new events, sports and conferences to Rotorua.
So the importance is the people who have the drive and the integrity; who have the credibility of getting the job done. I’ve always said all along that I will get the job done, and I’m committed to doing that into the future.
TM - Obviously it’s a challenging time with the economic collapse around the world. How has Rotorua come through that?
KW - We’ve actually come through pretty well. As I said, with our Energy Events Centre, if we didn’t have that venue, we would’ve seen a lot of lost trade through conferences, business; those big conferences coming into town that have support our hotels, motels, cafes and restaurants. So if we didn’t have that, we would’ve been severely restricted.
The GFC (global financial crisis) has also impacted on our airport. That was a long-term strategic development. We knew that when we started in 2004. So it hasn’t gone as well as we anticipated but we’ve got the facility and we can now add on new destinations, new service capacity and we are having talks with new airlines and existing airlines as we speak. So we’ve got the facility and the only way is up for the airport.
TM - You talked about the events, the museum and airport [developments] which are good. One of the things with the GFC is debt [Kevin Winters: ‘Council debt] – yes and are you comfortable, do you remain comfortable with the level of debt?
KW - Oh, when you look at the way the debt is broken down to achieve that about $150 million dollar debt, you have to realise that we are only spending about 9 per cent per annum on interest payments – that’s very low. That’s about the medium for local government. Then you have to look at our asset to debt ratio. We look after over a billion dollars’ worth of assets. When I came to this job, it was about $380 million worth of assets.
So we’ve grown the business completely in the last eight years. Also our debt has gone up, but that is actually a good mechanism to get long-term strategic assets for our community, and these are assets that will last for 50-to-100 years.
For example, sewerage schemes: we are debt-funding a lot of those – great – those are long-term assets and people said that’s part of the big picture of improving lake water quality. Yes, we funded an airport from debt but, again, it’s a long-term strategic asset for the growth for the economic development of our community. We’ve done significant developments at our waste water treatment plant, because people want to see our effluent disposal systems are the best we can possibly buy. Another debt-funded facility. We’ve got about $30 million in roading infrastructure. You know, people want to go to work efficiently in the morning; they want to get to their business, and if we didn’t have proper infrastructure for our roading facilities, they would be complaining to me. So, again, another debt-funded facility and piece of infrastructure; long-term facility for our community.
TM - You mentioned that the council was running like a business…
KW - Yep, it’s a pretty big business.
TM - Yes, it’s one of the biggest businesses in town and, of course, you have to relate to other businesses – how do you think the relationship is with the business community?
KW - I think it is the best it has ever been. I mean we have a very good dialogue with the Chamber of Commerce. They came to us about two years ago and said ‘Mr Mayor, you have to do more for economic development for our community’. So we consulted widely with the Rotorua business leaders’ group and we’ve come up with ‘Grow Rotorua’. It’s a CCO – a council controlled organisation – we’ve appointed directors who have appointed a CEO, and they are charged with growing the economic development for our communities. So the Chamber of Commerce saw a problem, came to us, we’re leading it, we have a CCO in place, and that’s going to deliver huge results.
And that’s why I want to carry on being mayor, because I want to drive that CCO to deliver what we said it has to deliver in three years’ time. So, again, I’m very hands on in this role. I’m a director of the airport, because I’m hands on. I want to see the airport company grow and use that asset to drive the economic viability of this community.
TM - One of the challenges you had early on was around [the death of toddler] Nia Glassie, and the background to that, with the challenge of personal crime and family risk. How do see that having developed?
KW - [Sighs] Yeah, I get a bit emotional when I hear Nia, because she haunts me every day – dear little girl, murdered on my patch, murdered on my watch. I get emotional, because our community let that little girl down. So since Nia died, I have instigated the Rotorua Families Safer campaign, and we have now engaged with all those Crown agencies to deliver better services; take the silo mentality out of all those delivery agencies. How do you work together? How do police communicate with the DHB, through CYPF, WINZ and all those NGOs that work in the area of domestic family violence? That’s why I wear the white ribbon, because I have absolutely passionate about anti-domestic family violence.
So Nia is a bit of a driving force for me, because I want to resolve that big issue in Rotorua and make sure our agencies work better together.
TM - Do you have any thoughts on any new initiatives?
KW - The new initiatives are coming out – that’s why [Social Welfare Minister] Paula Bennett announced late last year that we and Whangarei were going to be the pilot programme for her white paper. I was just so delighted about that, and she said to be ‘Kevin, the reason why are choosing Rotorua is because you are so far advanced in terms of getting your heads around domestic family violence. And you are making a difference already’.
And we are seeing a trend in young children being abused, abused by their parents, uncles and aunts and family members. So we’re on a roll now and I want to continue to be there to continue that work too, because Nia is very precious to me and she keeps driving me.
TM – If re-elected, what is it you would want to achieve in the next term?
KW – There’s a number of issues I want to achieve – carry on with lake water quality improvements; carry on with economic development; drive our CCO [airport]; drive our tourism committee, because was another one the community wanted to improve the visitor industry reputation, to improve the reputation of Rotorua.
I also want to engage better with the Crown, because we are seeing a lot more legislation coming out New Zealand Government for local government. We saw the way they did it to Auckland and [it’s] not a good way of engaging with your community, legislating with a pen. So I want to engage across the Bay of Plenty better than we have done in the past. In fact I am leading the charge in that already through better integrated planning for the Bay of Plenty, right across the Bay of Plenty. I want to lead that piece of work as well.
The Crown is giving us new legislation. We saw the new Local Government Amendment Act, so the four well-beings have gone. I’m still coming to grips with the legislation about what we can and cannot get involved in. I mean, if my community wants me to get involved in something, I will and we’ve always done that. For example, Safe City Guardians, that’s continuing on. It is bit of a policing role but our community want to feel safe, they do feel safe with our Safer City Guardians.
So the bigger picture is getting used to new legislation. You know, Christchurch changed everything big time – new earthquake standards, new building codes, the Building Act is changing. So we have to get a handle on that to future proof our economy, our infrastructure, for and if any big events happen in Rotorua.
TM – The situation in Christchurch and the Auckland situation have kind of changed the whole thing for local government. How is Rotorua placed and how do you think we will manage our way through that?
KW – I think because I am leading this piece of work across the Bay of Plenty, through the Local Government Commission there is three parts of New Zealand looking at some form of amalgamation, restructuring. Northland, Greater Hawke’s Bay and Wellington.
The Bay of Plenty is not even on the radar of the Crown, because we are actually working well together through regional government. All the six TLAs (territorial local authorities) and we are connecting with our communities. So we are actually doing all of those back of house services already. We are doing shared services right across the district. I mean we do a joint venture with Hamilton City Council and Palmerston North City Council. So we are buying the best shared services that we can, be it in the Bay of Plenty or be it elsewhere.
So for the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua, in particular, we are actually leading the charge for New Zealand of working together. So whilst there are no amalgamation plans at the moment, who knows what could happen the future. But I want to be part of that debate, leading the Bay of Plenty anyway and I’m doing that anyway through our integrated planning work stream that is being initiated this week.
TM – One of the things with both Christchurch and Auckland has been the whole building process. At the moment we don’t have the inflows of people to worry too much but I guess if that happens we have to adjust don’t we?
KW – We have to adjust. I mean, every commercial building in the CBD has to be earthquake rated. There are a lot of buildings not up to scratch, so landlords need to get their engineers assessments done; they need to come up to the building code, so that their tenants feel safe in the community, feel safe in some of those older buildings. There’s working going on right now of earthquake-proofing our buildings in our CBD. Residential doesn’t have too many problems, because are built to the standards and we do a pretty good job of making sure our homes are well built. I think we only have five leaky homes in Rotorua, so that is good going forward as well in terms of our building inspection.
TM – It’s a big cost for companies, any upgrade of course. How can the council help to smooth the way to make that less onerous?
KW – Once you’ve got your engineer’s report we look at it and say ‘yep, that’s the right way to go’, so we actually don’t fund any of that earthquake-prone but we make sure that our inspectors are up to speed, that it is runs smoothly in terms of the inspection process and we sign it off as soon as we can so the tenants can move in. So it’s a big cost but you know I look at Christchurch and say you have to do it, you just have to do it.
TM – What is the average turnaround time for a building consent?
KW – We are getting very good. When I took office in 2004, I think our building consents/resource consents, was sort of 50 per cent in the first 21 days. That’s the statutory that they had to be issued by. Now, the last figure I saw was that about 95 per cent get granted within the 21 days statutory time frame. That’s a really good improvement and that’s how we can help business across the community. When they come to us with a building issue, yep, we can tick all the boxes as soon as possible and they can get on with the construction. That’s how we do business, smoothing out the way.
We still are the regulator - we still have to enforce the rules - but through our building division, planning division we can make sure we are playing our part in economic development by making sure that that consenting process is done as efficiently as possible.
TM – One other thing – while you are the mayor, you are still a resident of Rotorua, what do you think electors should be looking at regarding the candidates in the forthcoming elections?
KW – I think they [the candidates] want to be human; they want to be approachable. As a resident, when I’m operating a business, I see council as less is good. I want infrastructure so I can go to work and get to work as soon as possible with no delays. I want water supplied, waste water taken away, good roading, good infrastructure. As a resident, I just want to be able to go about my normal business. And then if I have an issue about the council, I want to be able to come in here and it’s solved very quickly.
That’s the sort of organisation I am driving for the future. Residents just want to get on with their lives, their work, their families, the schooling of their kids, and they don’t want council interfering too much in that process. So I am making sure that if they have an issue – it’s solved and if we can’t solve it, we get in some resources to help them. So less is more for residents of Rotorua in terms of council, because if you are not dealing with us on a day-to-day basis, that’s good because we are doing our job properly.
Kevin Winters Interview on 2013 election
You can hear this interview online by listening to the podcast Kevin Winters interview.