Why have you been a strong supporter of progressing the Nelson Southern Link Investigation?

Our current arterial network is under pressure and doesn't provide the platform to create a liveable city. The status quo isn’t a viable option to enhance our waterfront or develop a city that works for residents, businesses, and visitors. 

The Nelson Southern Link Investigation (NSLI) is a commitment by government to assist in planning a resilient arterial transport network for our city. The Council’s own transport plans required us to undertake that work in the current council term. It is very expensive work and the NSLI, funded by government, has been a significant cost saving to ratepayers. With central government transport funds always under pressure we cannot afford to be dropped to the bottom of the funding list because councillors have strong views against possible solutions and refuse to engage constructively in this project. That sort of behaviour will short-change our region.

I've taken time to be involved in the Business Case for this project, and I am satisfied that the process is robust. I can also say that representatives involved in the project agree that doing nothing is not an option. This city needs to finally make a call on its arterial transport network – one that will allow the city to thrive. I will continue to work constructively with NZTA through the next stages of the investigation to ensure Nelson is in the best position to receive government investment into our region. And that’s what NZTA are waiting for – a council table that is going to work with them and give clear direction on its preferences as we plan the city.

And yes I’ve made my preferred option known – the completion of the Southern Arterial Link as the new State Highway, an accessible CBD, livable arterial roads, and an upgraded waterfront for walking, cycling and recreation. 

Now is the time to work with NZTA and harness innovation, technology, and high quality design to develop a network that delivers benefits for everyone. 

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Where are we with our core infrastructure projects? 

Efficient sewerage, water supply and stormwater systems are essential services that must be funded as a priority to protect our city and environment. This work is truly the responsibility of councils.

I undertook a review soon after the last election that identified a major backlog of delayed essential maintenance projects and inadequate services that were not being funded. The scale of the issue is so significant that it will take more than 10 years to fully address. Major level of service improvements are needed particularly in stormwater and flood protection, which alone total $56M. We have prepared council's first 30 year Infrastructure Strategy to identify key strategic issues, options and costs for managing these issues, and set priorities based on risk. 

Getting this critical work back on track has been a focus over the last three years. Critical projects have been completed or are underway – from major stormwater upgrades and flood protection to water pipelines, sewerage pump stations and more. There is much more to be done and this work must continue. While we are in considerably better shape than we were in 2013, the scale and cost of the issue requires a long term commitment. 

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Can we keep rates and debt to an affordable level?

Absolutely! When I took over as Mayor three years ago, I inherited an unworkable Long Term Plan, with forecast rate rises of nearly 10%, unrealistic budgets and rates and debt caps that were set to be breached.

With sound financial planning and strong leadership, I’ve turned that bleak picture around. 

Nelson’s plans now meet the test of financial prudence and this has been achieved through rigorous management of our finances. Annual rates increases have been slashed from the projection of 9.6% I inherited, to 3.6% in 2015/16 and 2.8% in 2016/17. The numbers could have been lower but our plan delivers the essentials while keeping a focus on growth and prosperity, not retrenchment. 

Debt levels remain well within very conservative caps for borrowing limits, and below what was projected. Any surpluses are now directed to debt repayment rather than being used as a short-term fix to fudge rate rises.

This is no election year stunt. We are now projecting annual rates rises at below 3%, and likely to be below 2.5%, for at least the following 3 years (staying very low after that), and this is without compromising our ongoing investment in core infrastructure to address the backlog, and advancing pivotal projects connected with sport, recreation, the arts, social development and the environment. In fact, across the board I’ve shown that you can deliver more by thinking smarter and managing budgets carefully. 

Others have recognised what we have achieved. In the last year our council has earned an AA rating from Standard & Poors, the world’s leading credit agency. We’re in the very top tier of councils in New Zealand having a credit rating higher than the major banks. 

Now we’re operating like an organisation should when it’s responsible for $1.3 billion of assets that belong to you - the residents and ratepayers of Nelson. 

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We’re confused – is Elma Turner Library moving or not?

During 2015 internal discussions between the chair of the Community Services Committee, Councillor Peter Rainey, council staff and consultants, an option was developed for relocating the library from its present site to Civic House.

In December last year this option was presented to me and councillors as an alternative to redeveloping Elma Turner library in its river location. The idea was to reconfigure Civic House and the State Advances Building where there was vacant space.

It was a bold plan and the presentation made a compelling case for cost savings through integration of staff services. There’s nothing wrong with bold plans and change, and a council is required to consider options when looking at significant capital expenditure. The redevelopment of Elma Turner Library has a financial provision of $6M in our Long Term Plan. 

However, I like to consider these projects with the benefit of hearing from the community early in development stages. So I included information about the future of Elma Turner Library in this year’s Annual Plan and asked the community for feedback. It’s fair to say that some on council weren’t supportive of me being so open with the public. However, in my opinion it was the right time and entirely appropriate; and I certainly did my best to promote this new option in a positive light! 

In the spirit of no surprises, and collaborating with the community, I was keen to hear what you thought. I included the options in the Mayor’s Message to the Draft Annual Plan. And I waited to see what you’d say!

Sometimes I know that, no matter how well a project stacks up on paper, if it doesn’t respect what the client values – what the public of Nelson values – then it’s not the right solution.

Nelsonians responded emphatically, and what we heard was well thought-out and considered. Thank you to all of you who took the time to provide input. It genuinely helps with better decision-making.

I am extremely pleased that submitters to the Annual Plan gave clear feedback on their preferred location for our city library. It stays Riverside! 

But the Council's decision to retain the library at the river is much more than a decision on a valued community facility. It is the stepping stone to opening up a new Riverside Precinct for the city, one that properly addresses the Maitai River and Trafalgar Street Bridge, creating a gateway to our city which we will all be proud of. 

I want to bring a co-ordinated development plan combining both public and private land use. My vision for this area includes views and walkways to the River, quality public spaces, modern offices and commercial premises, the library as a signature civic building, opportunities for apartment living, and more. 

And no longer do we have to hold the State Advances Building as an empty space on Trafalgar Street. We’ll be calling for expressions of interest for that project very soon. This brings an exciting opportunity to breathe new life into this end of Trafalgar Street. 

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What is your vision for LOCAL mountain biking?

My vision is extremely positive, and with two committed councils, top quality mountain biking and cycling clubs and trusts, and the Nelson Regional Development Agency on board we’re not far away from asking Tourism NZ to market our region as a key year-round mountain biking destination. Here’s a starter for ten  What does the future of mountain biking look like?

Our climate, spectacular natural environment, top-class events, and quality and variety of trails will set us apart. From the airport to trail peaks, infrastructure and information is in place and our gondola leverages further investment in outdoor recreation. Families mountain bike together on weekends and biking visitors from around NZ and the globe are warmly welcomed to enjoy everything that makes this a great destination to live and play. Some decide to move here bringing their businesses and family. Our home-grown talent wins gold at the Olympic Games... 

How does that vision sound to you?

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