It was not having to pay the usual $2 an hour parking that got my attention as we rolled up for a bit of retail therapy on our first day in Rotorua. Since when does a Council cease revenue collecting?
My question was answered during coffee at the excellent Lime café at the lake end of Fenton Street. The owner told us there were 92 shops vacant in the CBD for two reasons: high rents and more attractive outlets in malls springing up around the city centre. Parking is free at these greenfield sites.
Council knows it needs to keep the vibrant heart to the city beating so is trying to help entice shoppers back. One move has been to stop parking charges. Another has been the introduction of a restaurant mall. The lake end of Tutanekai St (the main drag) is known locally as ‘Eat St’ and so Council has made that a feature tourist attraction by roofing the open seating area that used to be a road.
At least Rotorua has a pro-active Council that listens to the needs of their business people. They recognise that tourism is the lifeblood of the city and many shops rely on that market for their livelihood. If the tourists disappear it will quickly become apparent that even the malls will die as employment dries up.
Waiheke too is an economy based on tourism and faces similar problems to Rotorua i.e. high rents and, as far as Waiheke retailers are concened, a shopping mall in the shape of Auckland CBD on their doorstep.
Without tourism the island is in danger of becoming a big retirement village. Gold card holders will think nothing of shopping in town (they already do). Without tourism local services will gradually dwindle as demand falters. Without tourism the island will die a lingering death.
I notice Local Government NZ is worried about this trend.
New Zealand councils have a high reliance on property taxes, which is unusual by international standards. The common international approach is for local government systems to have a multiple taxing power, important for both resilience and fairness reasons.
LGNZ President Lawrence Yule confirmed today at the LGNZ April Quarterly Media Briefing that the sustainability of local government funding has become an increasingly important policy issue in the face of rapid demographic and economic change. He advised the LGNZ Local Government Funding Review will identify new funding options and alternatives that can complement councils’ current funding tools.
Waiheke has opted for a local government that looks backwards rather than forwards, that thinks tourism is bad, and has no idea what it means by ‘sustainable’. Contrast this with the view of ‘sustainable economic growth’ expressed by Rotorua District Council
Rotorua District councillor Mike McVicker, who leads the council’s Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy portfolio, says the TripAdvisor ranking (second in tourism behind Queenstown) is a welcome sign the Famously Rotorua campaign is bearing fruit.
The dreams of our local board that Waiheke becoming one big hippy commune will also disappear. House prices will remain stubbornly high and unaffordable (even hippies like to have their needs serviced affordably). Grey power will take over. Commuting will be an increasingly expensive option, afforded only by the better off. School rolls will fall. The power base of the hippies will dwindle.
As the wise saying goes, “be careful of what you wish for, you might get it….”