The Vision: Wanganui as Events City - 13/12/2004by Mayor Michael Laws
Each fortnight, local Police Inspector Sam Hoyle and I update each other on the issues on our respective watches. And ways in which Council and Police might assist each other to make Wanganui a safer community.
It was during one of these briefings that the issue of Police numbers came up – and how Wanganui had lost six front-line cops because of demands elsewhere. As Sam noted last week, it doesn't necessarily make the Police less reactive. Just less proactive. In other words, they have no option – their focus must be on the crime, rather than the causes of crime.
Two other political issues have also surfaced over the past week – issues that involve central rather than local government. But which impact upon Council nonetheless.
The first was the rimu logging up the river. And DoC attempting to embroil us in what is really their issue. Over the past 27 years, DoC has had every opportunity to close the legal loophole that allows Chris Bergmann and Wildlife Properties Ltd to log the Taunoka Conservation Area. But they have done nothing. Except bleat to the Council after one hundred stunning trees were cut to the ground.
The worst thing about this problem is that Mr Bergmann could conceivably log another six hundred rimu trees before 2010 – and still meet every stricture within our District Plan. The problem is DoC's … they own the forests. But their lack of insight and intelligence has made it ours.
The second relates to the plan of the Whanganui District Health Board to merge its public-managed emergency department with a privately-managed medical facility. This may very well be a good thing – in the sense of bringing closer the clinical talent in our city.
But the motivation is not necessarily best clinical practice. Rather it is to save money. Central government allocates 'x' amount of money to the district health board – and they have to apportion that appropriately. The truth is that Whanganui is underfunded – that the funding formula takes too little account of our quite peculiar demographics.
It is at these junctures then, that central and local government interests intersect. And that decisions made in Wellington have an influence that no council can properly ignore. At which point, a mayor must lead. He must lobby and argue for a fairer share of resources for our local services.
In the New Year, I intend that Council plays much more of a central advocacy role. Next year is the 2005 general election – and politicians tend to be more acute to such requests when such an event is on their horizon. From personal experience, I know that a local MP can only do so much.
I mean no criticism of our region's local MPs. But sometimes it pays to have an external agency arguing your case. And in the New Year, I will be looking to form a local lobby that does just that.
Which brings me to next year. Much of the latter part of this year has been focused on getting Council's own house in order. Things have not been as they should be – but I am confident that we are now setting up the processes and policies that will correct those problems.
Next year then is about two things. Empowering Wanganui people with the ability to make decisions as to the priorities for their rating dollars. And making Wanganui a unique events city.
I want something new, something dynamic and something entertaining happening in Wanganui every fortnight. I want events that not only enrich the city but attract visitors and national attention. In short, I want us to put Wanganui on the map.
There are two immediate and new events that come to mind. First, the hosting of the premiere of the movie 'River Queen'. If we can pull that off, we will have pushed ourselves into the first rank of provincial cities. And been provided with a promotional/marketing opportunity the like of which Wanganui has never had.
Second, the 'Mayoral Mile'. It is intended to be the richest athletics race in New Zealand. But much more than that. An opportunity for everyone to run, jog, walk or wheel a mile (1600 metres) on the same track that Peter Snell broke the world mile record in January 1962.
I intend that the Wanganui Mayoral Mile rivals the Fletchers Marathon as an athletics weekend – that it attracts both locals and visitors to compete against others and themselves. The difference is that everyone can run, walk or jog a mile. Not everyone can run a marathon.
There will be celebrity contestants, kids miles, masters miles, wheelchair miles and then the supreme event – the richest athletics race in New Zealand. From my mayoral salary, I intend to donate $10,000 annually to the event. But I believe that with sponsorship we could easily triple that amount.
The point is that it will be a weekend for everyone. Inclusive. Uplifting. Entertaining. Fun. The things that all events should aspire to be. The things that I want Wanganui to be. Qualities that I know that Wanganui possesses.
It also means giving some events that are already here – the Cemetery Circuit motorcycling, Heritage Weekend, the arts festival, the Masters Games and the Riverboat Jazz Festival - a much greater promotional push.
We have the talent. We have the ideas. We have the enthusiasm. All that is now required is co-ordination. And oomph. That will be Council's role. And it is a role we intend to play.