SunLive caught up with Tauranga’s newly-elected mayor Tenby Powell on Sunday afternoon, and asked him some of the big ‘why’ and ‘what’s next’ questions.
“This idea to be Tauranga’s mayor formulated in 2016,” says Tenby.
“I was doing some work here for the University of Waikato, chairing Waikato Link, the University’s commercialization company. I was also here doing some other business work, and got a sense that the city needed to have a very different approach to not only business which is the attracting of private sector investment into the city, but I was worried about some of the messages that I was getting around the lack of community engagement.
“As a consequence I started to look quite hard at what was happening, became increasingly concerned and developed this idea that if it continued like this, I might actually run for mayor.”
The 2016 elections came along, with Greg Brownless being voted in as the new mayor.
“I thought ‘this is going to be good, it’s a new council, a different mayor, maybe things will look up’,” says Tenby. “My view though, is that the city’s gone backwards. It’s gone backwards almost a decade in the last three years, which is fundamentally why I ran.
“I have been keeping a very close eye on it. I’ve got a lot of networks entrenched here that are pre-existing. And I think that’s been proven by the four thousand plus margin.”
Tenby was voted in with the preliminary results announced on Sunday afternoon giving him 16,940 votes, well clear of Greg with 12,286 votes. In third place for the mayoralty was previous deputy mayor Kelvin Clout with 8,487 votes.
“So it was all around that. I truly believe and I’ve said this very publicly on numerous occasions, that Tauranga is a strategically important city for New Zealand, because of its port and because of its growth trajectory,” says Tenby.
“It’s a challenging city topographically; it’s our fifth largest city in New Zealand, and the fourth smallest land size, the topography of which is extremely challenging. That doesn't mean to say that we've got to continue spreading. The urban spread is going to just exacerbate the already frustrating traffic challenges that we have here and it's not going to help housing necessarily.
“We've got to go up in the city and I've said that for a long time. And I know that the plan has incorporated intensification of Te Papa. I know the plan has included medium-rise development in the inner city but what I've said consistently during my campaign - where is the execution of those plans because some of the plans are actually very good. It’s now time to execute and have a team that can assist that council and the private sector to execute them and actually get stuff done.”
Tenby will be meeting Tauranga City Council Chief Executive Marty Grenfell on Monday.
“To my knowledge, I think I’m also meeting with Garry Webber and Doug Leeder on Monday,” says Tenby.
Tenby has previously established relationships across the Bay of Plenty region, including with Steve Chadwick, who was been voted in again as mayor for the Rotorua Lakes Council.
“I got a very nice message from Steve yesterday and we’ve been trading texts today. I’m really looking forward to working with Stevie. She brings a wealth of experience, obviously central government, prior to becoming the mayor of Rotorua.
“One of my key platforms in my speeches that I’ve talked about has been greater regional co-operation.
“And that includes Whakatane, Rotorua and Hamilton. I'm really keen to work with the key surrounding cities, to make sure that we do coordinate.”
Judy Turner, the previous deputy mayor of Whakatane District has won the mayoralty there.
“The logistics going to the port are mostly from the east,” says Tenby.
“I also have good existing central government relationships that I hope to re-establish in my new role to benefit Tauranga as a strategically important New Zealand city. So the other part of that whole concept of greater regional cooperation is growing that relationship with central government so that we can facilitate the funds that I believe Tauranga misses out on.”
Tenby has his focus on ensuring Tauranga city benefits and reach its potential through the opportunities that the Provincial Growth Fund – PGF can offer.
“We’re a strategically important city both for NZTA and PGF. I believe we should be getting a lot more of it than we do. Our share is quite limited in a sense of the size of our city.”
The Tauranga community has recently been demanding NZTA provide a pedestrian and cycle underpass as part of the Bay Link re-construction project.
“I'll be very vocal on that. I was a bit harsh about them during the election campaign, but it’s now about saying how do we work collaboratively with government? We’ve got to have that underpass. I said at that meeting with the NZTA officials, that there's got to be a way of either remediating the current one or including it in the project. We’ve got to have it.”
He’s determined to ensure that the essentials are taken care of.
“Things like that are a ‘must have’, not a ‘nice to have’. Fixing the Mount track is a ‘must have’ not a ‘nice to have’.”
There’s going to, by necessity, time required as a new council spent on orientation, learning how Council works, embedding in the new councillors and getting things underway, but we asked Tenby for the top five key tasks he wants to focus on over the next 18 months.
“Obviously the first, really important and critical thing is to establish a positive working relationship with my fellow councillors, apportioning the committees to various people that have the skill sets to do it,” says Tenby.
“I'm a very values and beliefs-based person, and organizations and their cultures rely on values and beliefs. I would love to think that we can develop a common and shared set of values and beliefs. That’s going to be really important.
“This is all part of and leading into assisting the change at Tauranga City Council. I believe it's got every opportunity to be a higher performing entity than what it currently is.
“As I’ve said, I believe Tauranga City Council needs to be a customer service-oriented organization. Customers of course being residents.
“Number two on my list is to start developing these relationships with central government, so we’re getting the right funding to solve the problems, which is number three – the roading problems – making sure we’ve got housing developments that are planned. From a work sequencing point of view, planned with infrastructure first and housing second.”
Tenby sees that a critical part of infrastructure and housing development would be an intensification of the Tauranga CBD and Te Papa peninsula.
“And then, there's a whole lot of things that can be done, I believe. We've got to fix the Mount track. We need some early ‘wins’ and fixing the Mount track is an obvious one.
“And of course, I've been pretty vocal about our homeless community here. I worry about it. It's growing. I was going to say it's a growth industry, - of course I don't mean it like that but it's growing in numbers and therefore the people that are supporting it are growing. I worry that Tauranga has more NGOs [non-government-organisations] than any city in New Zealand that focus on homelessness.
“I have said to many of the wonderful people who look after our homeless – ‘can we find a way of working together?’ Now, it’s not going to be easy for all sorts of reasons, but I think we do have to find a way of working together to solve this problem.
“One of the obvious solutions to people who are homeless is to find them a house for them to live in. We just need to find ways of developing housing for people.
“No one in New Zealand should be on the streets or in cars. I know that we're not going to solve that to the 100 per cent point, but I would like to think that we can get central government support and work collaboratively with those people who have expert knowledge in this area to really make some inroads into the problem we’ve got here in Tauranga. This is a key issue for me.
“Passing a bylaw to sweep the homeless out of the city is not a plan. It's time for a plan. I'm going to be working really hard to ensure that we have a plan.”
Another area that Tenby wants to focus on is the environment.
“A lot of our economics comes from the environment, both the land and the sea and we've got to find ways of ensuring that we are better protecting it.
“I'm not saying that we're not protecting it at the moment, but I think we can do much better and doing the five months that I was campaigning, I met a number of incredibly knowledgeable people on environmental issues that affect the Western Bay of Plenty. I'm really looking forward to working with them more closely on that.
He values the arts sector, saying that he holds it to heart, particularly after he and his wife Sharon experienced some of Tauranga’s artistic performances and shows over the last few months while campaigning.
“One example is that I was overwhelmed by Tarnished Frocks & Divas, as was Sharon. Absolutely overwhelmed. It is one of the top productions I’ve seen in the world. Having seen wonderful things like Les Mis in Sydney and various versions of Faust - this is up there with those internationally-recognized productions.
“I will be fighting very hard to ensure that what happened to WOW, where Wellington bought it from Nelson, for example, never happens to Tarnished Frocks & Divas. We have got to give greater support to the arts sector. The arts is all part of being a key New Zealand city.
“We've also got to cherish our history. We need to find a way of showcasing that history. We’ve got to support our arts and our culture to a level that I think we can do much better than we currently do.
“Our history here is very rich and it’s untold. Being able to get along well together - and you would have heard me talk about the fact that I believe that we need to bring the community and the communities together, which clearly includes iwi, - iwi are a special part of New Zealand and a very special part of Tauranga and I think we need to embrace that. There's lots that we can learn from each other.
“But in terms of the history, it is really very significant - from the landings and then General Cameron's military assaults that ended up with the withdrawal down to Gate Pa and so forth. These are things that we should be cherishing. I know some of its not great. I understand that. General Cameron was a tyrant really, but it was what it was and I think it's very important that we don't visit today's generation on the actions and behaviours of our forebears, but we do as a consequence of that, recognize it. And we do some healing.
“Part of it is recognising the history and recording it accurately.”
Tauranga’s rich history and geography is also potentially beckoning as untapped tourism.
“There’s so many things that we could do here in Tauranga,” says Tenby. “Sitting back on our laurels because we have a world-class surf beach is not a tourism plan.
“Look at Rotorua for example. Once they had boiling mud and lakes, now they’ve got zorbing and swooping and luging and all those wonderful things.
“Stevie told me they get something like 76 million dollars per annum out of mountain biking in the redwood forest alone.
“Where are these plans for Tauranga? So, I'm really looking forward to working with Kristen Dunne and her team at Tourism BOP to really establish some practical outcomes.”