Proposal to encourage CBD investment considered

Photo: Supplied.

Rates relief may be investigated as a potential incentive to encourage investment in the inner city as part of the next phase of revitalising Rotorua’s CBD.

Rotorua Lakes Council’s Strategy, Policy & Finance Committee will recommend to the Full Council that it support development of options to bring back to elected members later this year or early next year for decision-making.

Development of options will include working with stakeholders including developers, property owners and the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce and consulting the public.

Inner city revitalisation has been a priority of Council since 2013 and the focus to date has been on improving the general environment including safety, roading and footpaths, activity and the look of the CBD. The district’s Spatial Plan identified the need for more work to be done to encourage building improvements, development of more inner city living and encourage tourism accommodation to move into the CBD.

The amount of vacant space in the inner city in the past three years has been significantly less than previous several years but remains a challenge, alongside the state of some buildings in the CBD and the size of the CBD itself, which is an issue for New Zealand centres, the Committee heard this week.

Operations Group Manager Henry Weston said while there had been considerable change in the CBD since 2013, “we’re not there yet”. Following the focus on environmental changes, there was now a need to look at the more structural improvements and changes that were needed, he said.

Council needed to consider what more it could do to encourage inner city improvements, investment and development and discussions with developers, property owners and the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce indicated that some form of rates relief could be one way to help do that.

"The intention was to explore existing examples from around the country and talk to developers and property owners, with a view to developing a local policy that could support development and investment decisions," says Henry.

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chair John McCrae, who was present at the meeting and was invited to speak to the committee, said the chamber and developers the chamber had spoken to supported rates relief as one way to help encourage improvements and investment needed in the CBD. Projects such as the lakefront development should provide further encouragement, he said.

Council Chief Executive Geoff Williams said there had been more development in Rotorua’s CBD during recent years than for many years before that with further developments underway right now.

"Economic factors and Council had both contributed to the positive changes that were evident," says Geoff.

"However, while there was change and development, it was not happening quickly and Council needed to consider how it could speed that up."

The motion that was put to the committee (“That the Committee recommends to Council to progress a revised rates remission policy to encourage development in the inner city, including a process of stakeholder and public consultation.”) was passed and will be considered by the Full Council later this month. Councillors Rob Kent and Raj Kumar recorded their votes against the recommendation.

The report considered by the Committee (page 13 in the meeting agenda) recommends that to fully understand the opportunities and repercussions of a rates remission or postponement policy the following process be undertaken:

1. Create a working party made up of local developers and inner city stakeholders to formulate options.

2. Model and analyse options and present back to the working party to agree preferred option.

3. Undertake public consultation on preferred option.

4. Analysis of feedback and refining preferred option.

5. Present process and outcomes back to Council for consideration.

6. If approved, any new policy could be trialled for up to 2 years to understand progress and reviewed.

The report says "An additional option is to undertake District Plan changes that will reduce the size of the footprint over time. While this is programmed, this change alone will not transform the inner city rapidly. Changes such as this take time as existing use rights require a building to be empty for over a year before any new zoning can take effect. Instead it is recommended that Council have a number of initiatives underway with a remissions policy being one of them".

The recommendation to progress with work on a revised policy, including engaging and consulting with stakeholders and the public, will go to the Full Council later this month for its consideration.

This week's meeting was livestreamed and and the discussion and debate about the CBD proposal can be viewed at THIS LINK on Council’s website.

To read the report that went to the Committee about this matter in the meeting agenda click HERE on Council’s website.

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