Choices. How do we deal with our broadest responsibilities to community when financial circumstances push us to think about the differences between investments in pools and pipes? We had some long debates at our Council meeting last week as we unpicked this very issue for our Annual Plan.
Our vision of a thriving future in Central Hawke’s Bay involves a variety of perspectives on what “wellbeing” means for us: proud, prosperous, strong, connected, proud kaitiaki of our environment, and custodians of our district for the next generations. I think about it as the things that make us unique, the facilities and infrastructure that we interact with every day, and the nuanced, local approach to community that no government department could ever sensibly deliver centrally from Wellington. That’s our role.
Ultimately, the things that are important to communities aren’t just roads and pipes, crucial though they are. They include the social infrastructure that brings us together and keeps us healthy, mentally and physically. And the feedback you gave us in our community survey during May reaffirmed that to us.
All of your survey responses were reported to us at our meeting last week, and we discussed them at length, as well as a detailed report about the urgent work needed at the Centralines Pool in Waipukurau. Thank you to everyone who provided insights to help us.
The Centralines Pool complex has been at the heart of Central Hawke’s Bay sporting and social activities for more than twenty years. In 1996, a voluntary community trust was set up with a covenant to provide a “modern recreational swimming and fitness facility” on Council reserve land. While the ownership and operational funding structures are the responsibility of the Trust, who have managed the facility well despite limited budgets, Council plays a vital role as we continue to invest in the complex.
We’ve been working with the CHB Community Trust for the last couple of years to identify ongoing investment requirements as the facility ages, and the report we reviewed told us critical repairs to keep the facility operating and extend its lifespan are now required. These include replacing HVAC filters and compression equipment and making improvements to fire protection and ceiling surfaces in the short term, and longer term investment required for the building and pool. Many of these repairs had already been scheduled for later in our Long Term Plan, but the short-term ones are now urgent.
So we asked our community through our Annual Plan consultation if they were happy for us to co-fund this urgent work, bringing it forward to be done now rather than risk closure of the complex. Nearly 75% of responses supported Council’s recommendation that the work proceed, commenting that the pool is a ‘huge asset’ to the community. Many survey respondents noted its vital role in teaching kids to swim, and others pointed out that the pool is one of the most used facilities in Central Hawke’s Bay, bringing people of all ages and walks of life together to train, keep fit, aquajog, have birthday parties, and form new friendships.
Ironically, it’s a lot harder for a charity like the Community Trust to fundraise from external agencies to maintain an existing premise than it is to build a brand new facility! So while talk of a bigger and better facility might be needed down the track, if the Trust is to keep the pool operating, Council is really one of very few funding options. We will be asking the Trust to continue looking for additional funding sources, as well as participating in a full service review with council over the coming few months to see if there is a more efficient structure for taking our beloved pool into the next stage of its life.
There’s more behind the Centralines Pool complex story, however. The ongoing funding challenge for local Councils - even for facilities like this that are vital to the wellbeing of our communities - illustrates that the local government system isn’t working as it should. The fact that we had to consider so seriously such expensive, urgent repairs for the Centralines Pool, and have had to discuss and debate at length one of our most popular social and sporting hubs, is a stark reminder that we often simply don’t have the funding to do the big things that matter to our community. We’ve managed it this time, but these choices will continue to get harder.
Let’s hope that the long-awaited independent review into the Future for Local Government, due for release this week, will recognise the importance of decisions like this. With a 21st century system of strong local-decision making and support for investment in community, we can truly weave intergenerational wellbeing into everything we do.
Photo: Mayor Alex Walker and Cllr Gerard Minehan at a working bee with the CHB Community Trustees at the Centralines Pool Easter 2023
21 June 2023
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