Tourist town on track to be 'debt free'

Hanmer Springs. Photo: Supplied by Hurunui District Council
Hanmer Springs. Photo: Supplied by Hurunui District Council
The tourist town of Hanmer Springs hopes to be "debt free" within 10 years.

The Hanmer Springs Community Board is backing a plan to pay off a loan, which funded the Canterbury town’s development, as part the Hurunui District Council’s Long Term Plan.

Board chairperson Mary Holloway said the loan paid for an upgrade of the town centre 20 years ago.

It was expected to be offset by two new sub-divisions, which never happened.

‘‘It will be quite a big thing for us to get out of debt. In every other way the town is doing really well.’’

Hanmer Springs based councillor Tom Davies said the board has made ‘‘a very brave decision’’ to get the village out of debt without comprising on development.

‘‘We have hardly curbed our spending, other than changing a few priorities and we will have it paid off within 10 years.’’

Hurunui District Council chief executive Hamish Dobbie said loans totalling around $1 million were being paid off by Hanmer Springs ratepayers.

The debt included funding for the town centre upgrade and the Hanmer Springs medical centre and doctor's house, he said.

Councils used debt to spread the cost out, rather than ratepayers having to pay it as one lump sum.

"We use debt to ensure there is inter-generational equity," Mr Dobbie said.

"It has been a real focus of our communities to work hard at paying down debt over a number of years so they have some headroom for the next big project."

Mayor Marie Black said it is no different to financing in a commercial business or taking out a mortgage to buy a house.

The board has been planning to establish a community hub in the village green to provide visitors with information on walking and cycling trails in the town, with $60,500 set aside in the draft Long Term Plan.

Funding is also set to increase from $40,000 to $60,000 a year for maintaining the town's network of trails.

The council also planned to set aside $500,000 to upgrade the Hanmer Springs Sports Pavilion in the 2028/29 financial year.

Hanmer Springs has a permanent population of around 700 people, plus holiday homes, which can swell up to 10,000 people during busy weekends.

Most visitors come from Christchurch and other cities around New Zealand, with a growing number of international visitors.

‘‘It means people come here with city expectations of infrastructure and gardens, so we have to punch above our weight,’’ Mrs Holloway said.

‘‘It is about balancing levels of expectation, while keeping our village character.

‘‘A good 60 to 70 percent of the housing is holiday homes.’’

It meant the community needed to provide its own services, such as the council-owned Hanmer Springs Medical Centre and doctor’s house.

The village hosts a number of events throughout the year including half marathon and mountain bike races and the popular Hanmer MotorFest, which was held from February 23 to 24.

A weekly Hanmer Park Run has also been proposed.

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

■ LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air