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After a year of inactivity, and following a meeting with between the mayor Gary Tong and the local Community Board, the Southland District council finally decided to move ahead with a badly needed upgrade. A budget of $228k had been approved. Tong explained that the delay was in part a result of the ‘problems with the Around The Mountains Rail Trail’ and a ‘need to get all the ducks in a row’. He also complained that the local community board had somehow failed to advance the project and that this failure ‘did his head in’.
However, after later receiving a negative report from an engineer about the floor in one of the buildings the council will now demolish all buildings on the site at a cost of $100,000. Sandra McAlister, manager of the camp ground for 13 years, says that the move will mean that trampers on the Te Araroa track would have nothing to welcome them when they got to the town and that this and the loss of other occasional and regular campers would negatively impact on the local fish and chip shop, café, pub and supermarket. Last year she welcomed 351 walkers to the camp who stayed for 121 nights. She says that at a public meeting a few weeks ago council representatives announced that the building which has a kitchen and laundry area plus two showers and two toilets would not be upgraded after all but would instead be demolished at a cost of $35k.
She later read in the paper that the figure had expanded to $100k.
‘… like many small towns Otautau is slowly being whittled away and this decision will further hurt the community.’
She said that like many small towns Otautau was slowly being whittled away and that this decision would further hurt the community. She also said that people looking to stay in Otautau for work struggled to find accommodation and that for a number of such people being able to have a caravan at the park was a life saver. In addition to such folk the camp ground enjoyed the patronage of many campervans.
She said that she quite often gave weary walkers produce from her hot house and that she had felt so sorry for a group of seven exhausted young visitors from oversea that she cooked them a couple of roast chickens with all the trimmings. She felt terrible that they would continue to arrive desperately wanting a hot shower and that there would be nothing for them.
‘The council does not want anything to do with camping grounds and in fact
it wants to close them all.’
She struggled to understand why it was cheaper to demolish the building for 100k rather than fix the floor and that at the meeting she and other locals were told that the council does not want anything to do with camping grounds and in fact wants to close them all. She says that she has not received any assurance from council that new facilities would be built and in light of that comment she does not expect to. The council has confirmed that it will even fill in the sceptic tank so that there is no longer a system to even hook a new toilet up to.
Given the importance of tourism to the development of Southland and the preference for longer stay, low impact activities like walking our trails this decision is beyond my comprehension. Mayor Tong’s personal responsibility for a large part in the cost blowouts on the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail makes his use of that debacle to deliver a cautionary warning to the locals is particularly objectionable in light of this outcome.
This is a vital community asset of immense value that would cost very little to
make fit for purpose. Southland is known for its genuine kindness and hospitality toward visitors. It is part of who we are.
I suggest Mayor Tong show just a little real leadership and a little real concern for the people of Southland by reversing this short sighted decision.