Challenging time ahead for district council

The Blossom Festival is back in Alexandra next weekend and there will be plenty of joy around. But there are clouds ahead in Central Otago. The Otago Daily Times  Central Otago bureau has a look at the issues facing the district as the local body elections loom.

All must be well in Central Otago.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan is the only mayor in the southern region who will return to his job unopposed.

By that logic, everyone must be happy and have little to complain about.

Perhaps. But saying the Central Otago region is akin to Utopia is a stretch and would leave many shaking their heads.

Mayor Cadogan himself said the next three years might be the most challenging in 30 years of local government as a raft of changes are introduced in the sector.

Central Otago has a lot of land, a lengthy list of challenges and not exactly rocketing growth.

There are the standard pressures which are faced by most councils: Three waters, cost increases, rate rises, ageing infrastructure, elderly population.

The council is not dissimilar to any council — or indeed business — in what is causing angst.

Housing affordability — or more like housing unaffordability — is an issue which has landed at the council’s front door.

Central Otago is by and large a nice place to live. But finding an affordable house to live in is becoming hard for many.

The council though, kicked the issue down the road.

At a council meeting in July, the council rejected a proposal to give $16 million worth of ratepayer-owned land to an affordable housing trust. This was despite a residents’ survey backing the proposal.

Councillors viewed it as a central government issue and were concerned not selling the land at market rates would impact on rates.

The council has since introduced a policy where all developments on council-owned land will include different housing types, including smaller and more intensified housing options that would typically be sold at a lower price. More work needs to be done on this policy by the new council.

Roading is always an issue in Central Otago, which behind Southland, has one of the biggest roading networks in the country. Floods wiped out three bridges in Maniototo at the start of 2021, highlighting the sheer magnitude of the roading network and how delicate it is. It is not easy to run such a big and mainly empty network efficiently — a lesson from the Greens on how to run a leadership coup would be more popular than some roads in Central Otago. But no-one likes a bumpy road.

Staff retention is a plague on nearly every organisation in the country and the council is no exception. A quick look at the council vacancies column has jobs going in planning, roading, the library and no-one seems to want to be a pool lifeguard in the district. The lack of staff makes it difficult to get things done and when pools are shut, people swiftly get angry.

The planned Tarras Airport will continue bubbling away but it is still very much early days for the project. The next three years will be the making or breaking of the project. The council will have a role to play. It has mainly been an impartial spectator so far.

Then of course there is Three Waters.

Mayor Cadogan has been heavily invested in the process and lodged some wins in the shaping of the legislation. The council has also allocated cash for various projects after gaining money from the Three Waters support fund.

But, and this is a big but, how, when, or even if, Three Waters gets out of the blocks its real success, or real failure, will not be known for many years.