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Reg. Council to consider funding infrastructure

MEDIA RELEASE
Regional council to consider funding infrastructure


Environment Bay of Plenty is continuing to look strongly at its future role in the provision of regional infrastructure.

Some mayors in the Bay of Plenty have criticised the way the regional council has made use of its investments, which include shares in the Port of Tauranga. In the past, income from investments has been used to fund regional council functions while keeping regional council rates low.

Chairman John Cronin says the new Local Government Act now allows the organisation to broaden the scope of its activities on a regional basis, provided it does so in a sustainable manner. It also opens up the opportunity for Environment Bay of Plenty to help two or more district councils fund infrastructural items such as roading and sewerage.

Mr Cronin rejects claims that the regional council is not listening to requests from the region’s district councils. “We are actively pursuing opportunities for investment in the region’s infrastructure. A paper to a committee meeting next week looks at this very issue. One of the recommendations in that report is to start looking at how we could free up funding to invest in or lend for infrastructure projects that would benefit the regional community.

“We will consult with our communities about whether and how we might change the way we spend returns from the very well-managed investment income. In the past people have been happy with lower rates but we will talk with them through the Long Term Council Community Plan process. Community members can tell us if they approve of our broadening the scope of our own infrastructure, or perhaps assisting groups of territorial authorities with their infrastructure such as roading and sewerage.”

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Last week, the regional council approved a regional parks policy that allows it to secure land for use by the public. The policy gives priority to coastal peninsulas and spits, harbour headlands, salt marshes and land by lakes, rivers and wetlands. Access to open spaces is important for the well-being of residents, both current and future, Mr Cronin says. “A regional parks infrastructure is another example of how we could use income from investments to benefit the people in the Bay of Plenty both now and in the future. This is another example of where we have listened to the community who have expressed concerns about retaining open space in the region.”

Mr Cronin says that he is proud of “the wise way” the regional council has managed its investments and believes the regional community has been the winner. “We manage the funds on behalf of the people in the Bay of Plenty and have used those investments to support a wide range of resource management and environmental projects throughout the region. Now, with the changes to the Local Government Act, we need to look more closely at our activities and what, if any, extra functions involving infrastructure we can tackle without grossly increasing rates. If we divert investment income so that it is no longer available for current regional functions then the general rates will rise.”

Mr Cronin believes that the region’s mayors will best serve their communities by working with
the regional council in a productive way. He says that Environment Bay of Plenty will be receptive to the views of the district councils so long as they are consistent with community views.

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