Blog – 21st September 2023


Tauranga’s Momentum: Holding the ambition to be NZ’s best and most liveable city

Source: Simon Clarke, (outgoing) Independent Chair of Priority One

As I reflect on my tenure as Chair of Priority One, the Western Bay of Plenty’s economic development agency, and my 12 years as a Board Member, I am filled with a sense of pride around the progress we have made and hope for our city’s future.

Our city’s growth over the last decade has been transformative, and the progress towards becoming a grown-up, outwardly focused city is palpable. But, as we stand on the cusp of another significant change in our city’s governance structure, it’s crucial to ensure that the momentum we have recently built is preserved, we keep investing and we hold fast to our ambition to become New Zealand’s best and most liveable city.

Since February 2021, Tauranga has been under the stewardship of government-appointed Commissioners. Their tenure, set to conclude in July next year, has been marked by clarity, stability, sound evidence-based decision making, and forward-thinking governance. Through their professionalism, they have avoided the petty politics that besmirched the last administration and, embarrassingly for our city, ultimately led to the then councillors being removed.

Our city has benefited immensely from the ability of the Commissioners to meticulously plan, make some tough decisions, engage positively with iwi, central government and our communities and focus their attention on investing in key infrastructure and civic amenity challenges. They have done a great job moving Tauranga forward and enabling long-term, sustainable economic prosperity.  

Simon Clarke, outgoing Independent Chair of Priority One

As we look ahead to transition back to a councillor-governed model, the ongoing support from central government and our city leaders to maintain this momentum will be paramount. It would be a travesty and death knell for our communities if any newly elected council were to reverse the strides that have been made.

Our family moved to Tauranga in 1977, when the population was 48,000. It’s now 158,000. That’s a lot of growth without the corresponding investment in infrastructure required. Our beautiful environment and climate also mean that people will keep coming. We cannot just put our heads in the sand, stay as “10-dollar Tauranga” and take a “she’ll be right” attitude. We must significantly invest in our city’s infrastructure and community amenities to redress the deficit and position us for the future. 

From where I’m sitting, Tauranga is standing at an important crossroad. We either lose our momentum and shrink back to mediocrity, or we move forward with purpose and promise to become a truly grown-up city. We need a paradigm shift in our thinking. We must aim higher, think bigger, and build infrastructure and community facilities that stands the test of time without compromising the future of our children and grandchildren. We have one of the highest car rate usage per family in the country and dismal public transport usage statistics – both a testament to the need for change.

Amidst these challenges, there have of course, been silver linings during my time at Priority One. I take immense pride in the momentum that Priority One has built to deliver and enrich the quality of our communities. Our strengthened membership base and growing strategic partnerships are a testament to the commitment to the region’s sustainable economic growth.

The CBD Blueprint is a shining example of the synergies in our city between the private sector, and local and central government. It not only showcases more than $1.5b in large strategic investment in the city but also supports the vibrant civic centre (Te Manawataki o Te Papa), as well as delineating the city’s precincts (cultural & historical, justice, sports & events, civic, retail & commercial, and knowledge).

The Priority One team continues to do a great job of ensuring future opportunities for our young people and creating talent pipelines for the region’s businesses. Not only with the programmes they run, including a comprehensive range of sustainability and talent programmes, but the collaboration with TECT, Tauranga City Council, and the Bay of Plenty Tertiary Education Partners that culminated in the creation of the University of Waikato’s campus in the CBD; a beacon of hope and opportunity for our young minds. I’m also proud of their support for the Māori economy, including the strong relationships with iwi and the formation of Toi Kai Rawa – the region’s Māori economic development organisation.

As we look to the future, the importance of amenities and infrastructure in New Zealand’s fastest-growing city, should not be forgotten. Imagine a  regional airport that connects us to Australia. Imagine modern electric public ferries, buses and trains that reduce our car usage and eases traffic congestion. Imagine a  boutique multi-use stadium that not only meets our current and future needs but also brings exciting opportunities for the city, drawing in festival and sport-loving crowds. All things that will help sustainably grow and boost our economy.

The journey ahead is filled with promise. We must maintain the progress we have recently made. The legacy of good governance, strategic planning, and investment in our future must be preserved. A grown-up Tauranga Moana City and its current and future communities deserve nothing less.

Simon Clarke is the outgoing Independent Chair of Priority One, the Western Bay of Plenty’s economic development agency. He has served the Priority One membership and the city of Tauranga with dedication for more than a decade and is a staunch advocate for its sustainable growth and economic prosperity. Simon also chairs Bay Venues and sits on a number of other boards around Aotearoa and in Australia.