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Today we launch our website and our Whakatane Mayoral candidate interviews. All candidates were asked the same questions on things relevant to the Eastern Bay.
The first to be interviewed was Mike van der Boom.
Name: Mike van der Boom
Best known in the community as: Event manager for ToiEDA
What do you have to offer the district?
I’m young, I’m dynamic, I have a proven track record at being creative and innovative and I have experience in relationship management.
Perhaps my biggest strength is the ability to gather people together on a common project. Gathering people who want to be part of something and who are focused. Within any project I am also able to deal with people behaving badly, with the high performers, and the low performers.
If anyone wants to create any negativity, I’m able to tell them to put it aside, and keep the group moving forward. I can also teach others not to worry about negativity.
That might make me sound like a bit of an autocrat, but my decision-making is not autocratic.
I do a lot of behind-the-scenes work ensuring what people want before making any decisions or going ahead with any plans.
Why should people vote for you as opposed to the other candidates?
I believe I’m a little bit fresh and don’t come from an “old boys network”. I come from a small business background and I’m all about small business. I believe I look at things differently to the other candidates.
Using the bridge issue as an example, I understand some people are looking at a second bridge, others are looking at making the Pekatahi Bridge bigger – either way it’s a $35million spend.
But I don’t think we’ve exhausted all other possibilities yet. Things like staggering school starts, putting on a park and ride, or development outside of Whakatane.
What if we put a whole heap of District Council money into developing Edgecumbe as a really stand-out place to live, and put lots of money and effort into that school as well, we would reduce a whole heap of traffic coming into town every day.
I’m big on stepping away from what’s put in front of me and thinking laterally.
I’m not interested in being a frontman for the Council, I don’t want to turn up at events and be a show pony. I want to be able to get stuck in and do the work.
I’ve always been very hands-on. As part of my events role, we often had contractors come in afterward to clean up. If I saw that happening I would always go and help because, although not my job, it was always easy to see things would get done a lot faster if all hands were on deck.
What is your vision for the Eastern Bay and how do we achieve this?
I think we have a really bright future but we need to look after our infrastructure first.
Council has been warned about our ageing infrastructure for some time but, to date, nothing has been done. As I understand it, some of the underground infrastructure is very old and, if this is not addressed, we will be trouble.
Once that is sorted, we need to make sure it is an even better place to live than it is now, and attract others from around New Zealand to come and live here. I can see us trying to attract really talented people, entrepreneurs, artists, people who don’t necessarily bring a business, but can base themselves in Whakatane.
I had a conversation with Oxfam recently and asked them why they were based in Auckland. I asked what they were paying for their rent up there and told them they could operate their entire enterprise from Whakatane. How awesome would it be to have an ambassador moving around the country, who was talking to all these organisations, and trying to woo them to come here. And while we need to attract more people to the area, we have to look at how we open up some more land for development. And to do this I believe we need to have a District Plan change.
What are we currently doing right / and what are we doing wrong?
I would like to see changes to council’s decision-making processes. They do a lot of research and make a lot of decisions behind the scenes and then they will come to you and say here are our two preferred options – which one do you like.
My vision is that affected people and the community are involved from the start – let’s talk about the issues and the solutions together before we go off and spend millions of engineering money on designs, let’s talk to the people and make them part of the decision process rather than going behind closed doors.
You may not be aware there’s going to be $9.8million spend on the upgrade of the Whakatane Memorial Hall complex. We went along to a stakeholder group meeting, a very select group, who were trying to make decisions that will go forward into the plan.
I agree the hall complex will need to be upgraded but one of the things I would like to see is the Little Theatre turned into a Big Theatre/Conference Centre and relocated into the CBD. If it’s close to town, there’s a whole lot of opportunities that go with it. There’s a whole lot of costs as well which have to be factored in. What say it was in the middle of town and we were able to attract bigger concerts, the NZ ballet and NZ Symphony Orchestra. The length of time a school production runs could be halved with a bigger theatre and having it in the heart of town lends to the opportunity to create a bit of a night life.
Before you go to the Theatre, go out for dinner, then afterward go and have a beer or a coffee. Those sorts of things. Council hasn’t involved a lot of the population it its decision. It’s going down a path already predetermined and suddenly the community will get an option of A,B or C when we haven’t fully talked about what the other options are. We need to involve people at the start.
I think the Council has been really good at keeping our rates down, but at the expense of not keeping up with infrastructure needs. But it will come at a cost. Someone will ultimately have to pay. I also think Council has done a great job beautifying Whakatane’s CBD but it has ignored the outlying areas. And it’s those outlying areas we need to grow as there is no available land between Whakatane and Ohope to develop.
It also seems Grow Whakatane is pushing for those really big businesses to come here but neglecting the small businesses.
Where do you think we should be in ten years time – a tourist or agriculture-based economy?
I think we should be both. We can’t rely on one or the other. Agriculture is our biggest contributor to gross domestic product in the District but tourism is not far behind and has the potential to take over.
We’re missing a whole lot of opportunities in the tourism sector, we’re not marketing ourselves very well and we’re not encouraging tourism operators to come and set up here. Although to Whakatane District Council and the Mayor’s credit, there has been an attempt to set up an Eastern Bay of Plenty Tourism cluster.
How should we be co-operating with our neighbouring districts?
I think we are one community and we should be working as one community. It’s important that Councils work closely together – at the moment it appears each Council has its own projects to concentrate on and the other Councils are happy to leave them to it. But there are joint benefits for all, just as there are joint efficiencies we can gain from. Where and when we can, let’s work together.
Do we have anything to learn from Tauranga and Rotorua?
Yes. One of the frustrations I have with Tauranga is the traffic. We really need to think about if we are going to grow, how do we manage our roads and infrastructure? We have to prepare our infrastructure and our services for the future.
As I understand it, some of our infrastructure is quite aged and council have been warned to start building a fund to address this but it hasn’t been done.
How are we going to pay for this – that’s the big issue.
There is also going to be some demands on us about the quality of our water and this will be costly. Again, how are we going to pay for it? We could take out big loans or we could look to increase the rate-paying base in the District and, if rates are going to go up, it has to be fair.
I believe people don’t mind paying for something if their house is about to collapse, especially if the wealth of the District is growing. And how do you increase wealth? By economic development.
But I must state I’m not keen on economic development at the cost of community and environment. It has to be culturally sensitive, it has to be environmentally sensitive, and that becomes our point of difference.
We all love living here for different reasons but I bet a common reason is because it’s a beautiful place and you can’t sacrifice that for economic development. That’s why I’m hell-bent on ecological and sustainable tourism.
Sustainable tourism is not tourism that brings in busloads of people who require big hotels. It’s the kind of tourism that brings people here who spend more. I recently read cycle tourists spend more than three times more on average than any other tourist, they like to stay in little, local places and home stays and that’s where you see economic development really spread throughout the district.
I believe Tuhoe and Ngati Awa have so much potential, they’ve already got things they’re working towards and District Council’s role is to look at how we enable these people to develop their ecological and sustainable tourism.
Where do you stand on a Piripai development?
I’m all for development, but not at the expense of culture and environment. The development needs more thought. My concern is that a developer will come in and buy the land, will chop it up, and all profit will leave the District. There will be no economic benefit to us if this happens. I believe there are more appropriate places for that kind of development.
Where do you stand on a second bridge?
As I’ve said earlier, I do believe this needs to be further investigated.
I think that, in time, we will need one but for now, let’s look at all other alternatives. Start the planning now because it’s probably a ten-year process but lets look at mitigating the traffic problems we have got right now. And in regard to Pekatahi, as the Opotiki port comes on line, there will be less heavy traffic travelling through to the Port of Tauranga. This also needs more investigation and it shouldn’t be a political decision, it should be a really well researched one.
Do you believe we have a housing shortage – both low cost and retirement? How do we solve this?
Something I’ve talked about is developing infrastructure for a 20-year bubble. Once our baby boomers are gone, what are we going to do with all of our infrastructure and retirement homes. Will we be closing them all down like what has happened with our schools. We just have to be really careful to not over commit to something that only has a 20-year benefit. We need to have that long term planning and low cost housing comes into that.
Is council red tape hindering economic growth?
In some situations I believe it is. We need an enabling culture at Council not an impeding one. But I do believe Council is working on this now.
Should Council look at external funding sources to help economic growth?
They are looking at this already I believe. I would like to see businesses that are value-earning attracted to the region. We need to be working on industries that really add value to our products and that create well-paid jobs.
There’s a small sector, I believe, we can still develop more which is your home-based small business. Consultants who can operate from anywhere in New Zealand and ply their wares, internet-based sales businesses who could operate from here. And we really need to push ultra-fast broadband throughout the District. We really need to work with our partners in Opotiki and Kawerau as well. Kawerau has so much potential for entrepreneurs to operate a business but the lack of ultra fast broadband is a hindrance. If you had three council’s lobbying central government, you’d have a much better chance together.
What do you think is the most underutilised asset Whakatane has?
Our beautiful environment and our culture. As I’ve said, we really need to enable businesses and iwi to operate in the area. Ten years from now, that could be our biggest area of economic development – we don’t know. It will be great to see what Ngati Awa and Tuhoe have planned and be able to support them in their ventures.
Is it time for a change or are we better to stick with what we know?
If we keep doing what we’re doing now, we will always have what we have now. I’ve spoken to perhaps 2000 to 3000 people since deciding to run for Mayor and there’s an overwhelming number of young people who are saying we need to develop.
They’re frustrated there’s nothing happening and feel the place is stagnant. Then you start talking to the older people who love it here, are happy here, and don’t see any need for change. But we have to think about our younger generation.
So many grow up here and know their kids have to leave because there’s nothing for them. Not everybody’s child is going to go to university and get a highflying job somewhere. I have been talking at high schools and it appears there is lots of potential to look at international education – bringing international students to the region.
Trident are looking at an international school and Whakatane High School are already running an international programme. Perhaps we could look at an international hostel and bring both adult and secondary students to the area.