Homeless view rebuked in Rotorua

Candidates debate at Rotorua’s Novotel Hotel.

A hastily arranged council and mayoral candidates meeting in Rotorua drew strident cries to what is termed Rotorua's “rubbish” – the city’s homeless.

The comment was made by councillor candidate John Rakei-Clarke in reference to homeless in the district when candidates were given two minutes to extrapolate their views.

John says his quoted comment last week about placing the homeless in a “barn” had been taken out of context.

But he then seemed to accentuate that context by saying, toward the end of the debate, when he stood a second time that he wanted Rotorua to put “our rubbish” out of sight.

Members of a deceptively large gathering retorted, “they [the homeless] are not rubbish, they are not rubbish”.

A little earlier councillor candidate Ryan Gray said he preferred to find out why people were homeless.

Nor would he “sweep them down the road”, citing the Tauranga City Council which had passed a bylaw to remove homeless folk from their streets.

At the Novotel Hotel on Monday night, mayoral and councillor candidates were asked for their views on:

■ Performance of the Tourism CCO.
■ Ideas for growth in Rotorua in the next 3-5 years.
■ Initiatives the council can install to help tourism businesses to become more sustainable.

■ Impact of Holiday Rentals (Airbnb) on Rotorua?
■ Inner-city crime and homelessness?
■ The current state of Freedom Camping in the CBD?

■ Targeted rates (local bed tax) on commercial accommodation?

Most of the emphasis for candidates centred on Airbnb units, which according to one estimate drew 800 beds a night from acknowledged hotels and motels in the city, and freedom campers.

Councillor candidate Kaye Spark says she supported moves on Airbnb; she had to leave early to meet commitments to Kai Rotorua.

Alan Deverson says tourism is more concerned with tourism growth. He feels packages could be offered and discount cards for domestic tourists. Airbnb accommodation units were springing up all over the place but it was a chance to meet locals. Freedom camping should be discouraged.

Reynold Macpherson says on the question of CCO tourism is “very important”. Ratepayers wanted to know where $4.5million was going annually. It was not a witch hunt but a standard measure of major organisations.

Lachlan McKenzie spoke from a background in governance. He says he does not have the answers but people in the room did. He would tease out what was required in the community and act in the community interest.

As a “governor”, he would be asking the hard question of the CCO. As far as he was concerned council should keep out of businesses. As for Airbnb, he was in favour of an equitable arrangement as regards costs.

Conan O'Brien spoke about a man who broke into tears on receiving his rates bill, a man who could not bear tell his wife of the rates increases they could not afford. Compliance costs for the tourism industry were in excess of that of Airbnb.

Alan Solomon spoke of making changes for the young. He says the CCO should be further resourced.

Patricia Hosking says Airbandbs are not necessarily a bad thing. She had stayed in some good ones but says but they should be registered as a business activity.

Tania Tapsell said six years on the council “really ages” since she was elected at age 21 in 2013.

The CCO was working well for tourism and the community should be supporting the CCO more.

She says the council should continue to stick to the basics.

“When we talk about homelessness, we should be building more homes.”

Rural representative Shirley Trumper, standing at large, says if people are earning an income from short-term accommodation they should pay. Overnight camping was an issue and Rotorua did not have the infrastructure to cope.

Mayor Steve Chadwick spoke of the Vision 2030 plan. Diversity of market was showing great diversity.

“You wouldn't have the Chow brothers investing in Rotorua. The town has changed since 2013”, referring to her elevation to the mayoralty that year.

Oscar Nathan agreed with the mayor that Rotorua did not have a CCO but an economic development for tourism. “We need to engage with the tourism industry not patronise it,” he says. As an owner it is harder to be a landlord tenant than it is to run an Airbnb.

Dave Donaldson the deputy mayor said the CCO was not strictly a CCO but an economic development unit. He handed out a few metaphorical bouquets and praised the lobbying which attracted Trenz to Rotorua earlier this year.

Merepeka Raukawa Tait said of freedom campers: “Get rid of them. I don't want to see anyone's undies!”

Matthew Martin said the Rotorua council did a great job promoting itself domestically.

He agreed with the CCO concept but there was talent within Rotorua to run the operation “not an outsider”. Airbnb was affecting holiday rentals in Rotorua, he says.

Ryan Gray says improvements around the city were great, but Airbnb had a negative impact on tourism and available housing.

Mayoral candidate Dennis Curtis said resources “now” provided all of Rotorua to use to advantage.

“It’s an amazing story; it’s a story that were building.” The CCO had a tremendous job. Had says tourism should be protected.

Julie Kerry, raised in Blackpool hospitality industry, says Rotorua should be proud of what it has achieved. She says the tourism industry was important to the future. She says targeted rates on bed tax “doesn't work”. As for freedom camping: “Why have we got it?”

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