The most damning evidence to date that Horowhenua residents live in a ‘tail wags the dog’ political environment is the District Council’s proposed sponsorship of a ‘Charitable Community Trust’ dedicated to rolling out a ‘Master Plan’ from the Economic Development Board.
The 49-page “HDC-Project-Lift-Master-Plan-FINAL” contains a time line which states, “On 12 April, 2016 Horowhenua Economic Development Board introduced [the Master Plan] concept and on 13 April 2016 [former] Mayor Brendan Duffy and chief executive David Clapperton [held a] discussion on the role of Horowhenua District Council and related ownership, leadership, and governance of the project.”
Full support pledged from the council includes providing $259,400 of funding and in-kind support such as “lending venues for labs and gifting people’s time and expertise.”
So, how do the aims and objectives of the Master Plan tie in with council’s intention to sponsor the establishment of a Charitable Community Trust and what is it the proposed Trust intends to do?
According to a report titled, Community Trust for Horowhenua: Supporting Information for the Council Strategy Committee presented on 8 November 2017 by economic development manager Shanon Grainger the Trust would own,”in part or wholly, or in any other arrangement, a series of limited liability investment companies (or activities) [that would] operate on standard commercial terms governed by a commercial board of directors using a mix of private equity, bank-sourced debt and possibly Council assets or equity.”
Next phase of the ‘Master Plan’
And, the report says, the first priority of the Trust “up to July 2018” is to roll out the next phase of the Master Plan. This includes obtaining, “Central Government approval of the proposals set out in the Master Plan; recruitment of appropriate experts…and contract a provider to deliver the [Master Plan].”
The Master Plan specialises in what is referred to as, “solutions for older people…through the development of fit-for-purpose products, services and environments – for example…planning opportunities like Levin/Taitoko’s spatial plan and housing redevelopment [and] shopping precincts that are easy to get around.”
“We will develop business cases to attract funding and investment [for] solutions requiring significant public and private investment…We anticipate the balance of public to private investment.”
Will Jacinda’s Government support the ‘Master Plan’ ?
Whether the new Government will support the Master Plan concept is unknown at this stage, but the political uncertainty presents a potential liability which has not been considered.
Although the Master Plan refers to older people in Horowhenua as “stakeholders,” older people and organisations representing older people, including Greypower Horowhenua, were excluded from involvement in a deal that saw council sell land last year for the development of a new medical centre in Levin.
In a newspaper column, councillor Neville Gimblett referred to the deal between council, the former Government and private enterprise as, “an example of the growth coming to Levin as private enterprise gains the confidence to make major investment in our community…away from the unsettling glare of public commentary.”
It appears likely the secret deal done by council to sell land for the establishment of a medical centre is part of the roll out of the Master Plan which states a focus on, “trialling new ways to support and deliver people’s health needs.”
Sales of Council property
Seed funding would be provided to the proposed Trust through the sale of council owned property regarded as surplus to requirements.
Mr Clapperton said in a council press release published on 8 November last year, “we’ve acquired property for a variety of reasons…Some of it is useful to our community and some of it not so much.”
A key initiative of council’s economic development strategy 2014-2017 developed under Mr Duffy’s reign as mayor also includes rationalisation of council owned properties but refers to the intention to rationalise property as “an aligned Property Assets Strategy.”
Large portfolio of property up for grabs
Mr Grainger spoke more plainly in his report to council when he stated, “Over the years HDC has acquired a large portfolio of property for a variety of reasons – some helpful; some less so. The result is that, at present, HDC has approximately 40% more property than is required…In addition, a variety of property is leased or rented on a sub-optimal basis and thus represents a risky and inefficient investment.”
He went on to outline the “advantages” of the trust entering a joint arrangement with the council to develop a “disposal programme” of council owned property deemed excess to requirements.
The disposal of council property regarded as surplus would be, “executed using expertise retained by the Trust through (i) Transfer to the Trust at agreed rates; and/or (ii) Sold into the open market by value maximising means (auction, private treaty, etc).”