Dunedin City Council critic Calvin Oaten, in a piece he
has also sent to the mayor and incoming council, proposes the
city should be run on a ''no-growth basis''.
Maybe a good starting point would be to review some recent
history. The health of any community is unarguably based on
its financial stability and its leaders being fully mindful
of the need to protect the citizens' treasure, spending it
wisely, and quietly maintaining and improving their
Has this been the priority of our leaders over time? Recently
it seems not. In fact one sometimes wonders if there is any
comprehension at all of what is meant by good governance and
When I look at the long-term annual plan of 2003-04 I found
the city's net debt was $53.463 million and was scheduled to
peak in 2011-12 at $147.466 million. Looking at it 10 years
later, the 2013-14 plan shows the debt at $270.290 million.
If we include stadium debt of $146 million, this comes to a
total of $416.290 million. So, an increase over 10 years of
$362.82 million. Does that indicate financial prudence?
Oh, and we should not forget DCHL's contribution to our
malaise. It has been extorted and mismanaged to the point
where it and the DCC's combined consolidated debt amounts to
about $623 million. As shareholders, this by extension is
ours. Think about that.
So after all that spending why do I not feel substantially
better off? What has changed in my life in 10 years, indeed,
what has changed in any citizens' lives? We have a stadium,
(but we already had one before), we have a revamped Town Hall
Conference Centre and a seriously upgraded Settlers Museum.
All good stuff we are told.
How did we arrive at this position? It seems it all started
when the council basically ceded all development and
strategies to the bureaucrats. This resulted in management
structures which took off on ''planning'' schemes and
''visions'' of taking Dunedin to places it had no business in
We had a ''Choices, towards 2021'' plan, followed by
''Embrace the Opportunity'' new ''greenfields'' stadium in
2007. Now, we have the ''Spatial Plan for Dunedin''. This
latest plan is a product of this current council and
mayoralty and is ambitiously aimed at the next 30-plus years.
It is all full of grand aims and feel good ''strategic''
directions, such as ''an environmentally sustainable and
It cites the city's population in 2006 at ''about'' 122,300,
and usually on a peak day a population swells to about
146,900 with visitors. Not true.
The official census for 2006 was 118,683 residents. It then
projects a modest growth to 139,000 by 2061. This is just a
part of the ''vision'' outlined. Is this likely?
I decided it was time for some research to see how they
arrived at these plans. I found it on the top floor of the
Central Library (a wonderful institution), and the answer
appears not to be aligning the stars at all. It all lies in
the ''demographics'' of Dunedin.
Dunedin, we all know was a seriously robust city in the late
19th and early 20th centuries. This was founded on the
discovery of gold in the province. From this, Dunedin became
quite rich and entrepreneurs were attracted here. They
established commerce and industry to such a scale as to be
the centre and suppliers to much of the country. Engineering,
woollen mills, clothing manufacturing, importing and
warehousing operations all abounded. Jobs were abundant and
rich people got infinitely richer.
But about 1900 it plateaued. Since then, Dunedin has been in
a slow, inexorable decline, whether we acknowledge it or not.
The statistics demonstrate this clearly and concisely. The
1901 census shows Dunedin's population was 70,000 while New
Zealand's was 815,862. We were 8.5% of that total. In 1921 we
were 81,848 souls and New Zealand 1,284,873. We were 6.3% of
that total. Then in 1936, 82,000, 1950, 91,200 and in 2006,
118,683. Meanwhile, New Zealand in 2013 is 4,480,182. We are
just 2.64% of that. Put another way, in 105 years Dunedin
grew by 69%, while the country grew by 450%.
Need any more? Look at the University of Otago and we find
FTS (full-time students) in 1961 numbered 3000. In 2007 they
numbered about 18,000. We could extrapolate this as meaning
the difference is largely made up by outsiders, or transient
citizens. If this difference of 15,000 was subtracted from
the census total, that would give a true population figure of
The question is, how much cognisance of these figures was
taken into account before spending $260 million establishing
a stadium with the capacity to hold a ''third'' of the
population on any given day? How many non-paying people would
be expected to regularly visit the Settlers Museum? How many
international conferences could we reasonably expect to come
Should we have a different approach, to running our city on a
''no-growth basis'' economically, cutting costs to give a
point of difference if we ever wish to attract substantial
Spending ourselves into bankruptcy will attract no-one and
only accelerate the real decline. Is it too late? Maybe it
is, but if there is no change in direction urgently it most
certainly will be.