The ‘new normal’ for Council business is sinking in with the first ever audio-visual link Extraordinary Council meeting having now taken place online, and virtual meetings. 

Urgent changes to legislation following the Level 4 COVID-19 lockdown and declaration of a state of national emergency mean local Council meetings can now be held ‘remotely’.

The meeting was conducted via audio visual link, with Mayor Judy Turner saying this is the new normal for Council meetings in the immediate future.

A key piece of work will be reviewing the Council’s work programme for the next six to twelve months in light of the limitations that being in a state of emergency brings. An abridged schedule of Council meetings is being planned to discuss these issues in meetings that will also be held online.

Important pieces of Council work – such as the Annual Plan and Long Term Plan – are foremost in the minds of elected members who will make the prioritisation decisions. Also in the mix are infrastructure improvement projects, recovery and business support following the Whakaari / White Island event, and how best to progress work associated with the Provincial Growth Fund investment of $36.8 million into the community.

Further matters for consideration include striking rates, and Council’s response to its commercial and community tenants and lease holders, many of whom are suffering financial distress due to the lockdown imposed by the Government to slow the transmission of Covid-19.

Mayor Turner said the Council and staff have also worked quickly to align local economic recovery response efforts to central government initiatives to rebuild the national economy through funding large-scale infrastructure projects. The Council has applied for a slice of this investment funding.

“This presents us with an incredible opportunity to augment the Provincial Growth Fund investment through fast tracking a suite of shovel-ready projects in the Whakatāne District that can stimulate construction and economic activity. It’s a regional response to Government to ensure our local business and industry are supported through their recovery journey,” she says.

The Council is also working with support agencies to ensure affected local businesses take up the Government’s economic response package to help cushion the impact of COVID-19, Mayor Turner says.

A key part of this different way of operating will be creating new ways of engaging with communities to get feedback on these and other important projects and activities.

“Flexibility, creativity and agility are going to be key words going forward,” Mayor Turner says.

“These are not normal times. We will need to do some things differently for a while in order to continue to progress the good work that is taking place across the District. This will take some adjustment, but with open minds, commitment and collaboration we can ensure we are in a good place to move quickly when the restrictions are eased.”