Playground programme survives heated debate

Hamilton City Council's Destination Playground programme survived by the skin of its teeth after a hung vote at a council meeting this week.

Destination Playgrounds are larger playgrounds than neighbourhood playgrounds. They are unique to Hamilton and offer more accessibility to those with disabilities. Seven have already been constructed at locations such as the Hamilton Lake Domain.

The hung vote of five to five came when the council tried to pass an amendment to allow $150,000 to be spent on a Te Huia Reserve neighbourhood playground in Hamilton East and $1,006,000 to be spent on the Hare Puke Park Destination Playground in Hamilton East, with $906,000 of funding from Hamilton City Council.

The amendment came up against stiff opposition in discussion. Cr Geoff Taylor attempted to put forward a motion to cut $500,000 and give a total budget of $500,000 to be used on smaller neighbourhood playgrounds around the area.

"It verges on obscene. Door knocking, I would find it very hard to look a ratepayer in the eye who is struggling and tell them we are about to spend a million bucks on one playground," Cr Taylor said.

"Are these the actions of a council that is being sensible with their money?"

Cr Paula Southgate used her casting vote as head of the Community and Services committee to pass the amendment.  "The swing and slide playgrounds do not get used, so there is no point in maintaining the very bare basics," Southgate said.

Cr O'Leary spoke in favour of the amendment and wanted to continue with the roll-out of destination playgrounds around Hamilton.

"Yes it is somebody else's money - it is the ratepayers' money," Cr O'Leary said.

"It is those parents who use those playgrounds who can't afford to take their kids to the movies, who can't afford to go and hang out at a shopping mall."

Cr Dave Macpherson said going straight for the big bang theory is the wrong way to do it.

"I would like one [destination playground] on each street, but that isn't affordable. Do we put one destination playground in the area and expect [parents] to drive to it, or do we put several neighbourhood playgrounds in the area that the kids can walk to?" said Cr Macpherson.

Cr James Casson threw his weight behind the amendment to keep destination playgrounds.  "Unfortunately there seems to be a clear demarcation of east and west here," said Cr Casson. "I think you underestimate the depth of feeling and interest in the east for this sort of playground to be there."

"The comment was made that we are using someone else's money. Yes we are, [but] this council didn't have a problem putting $1.5 million into a river that only some people use."

Cr Siggi Henry supported the amendment, but wanted to look at cheaper and clean green alternatives when it came to facilities such as the toilets.

"Children sit too much behind computers and these playgrounds can put them out for a few hours," Cr Henry said.  Mayor Andrew King preferred the smaller neighbourhood playgrounds that kids can walk to.

"Let's keep it simple. Let's spread the money around our local parks, let's put in the simple swings, slide, a bit of rubber underneath so they don't hurt themselves when they fall off," Mr King said.

Cr Garry Mallett congratulated Cr Taylor on the initiative to put the motion forward, saying that the council had the chance to save over a half a million dollars.

Cr Mallett also said that there are more pressing priorities to deal with.

"You talk about priorities - the first thing that the families need are homes," Cr Mallett said. "We do not have the funding at the moment to meet the challenges that growth is imposing on us, and most of that growth is in homes.

"Once you've got the homes built, then you put on the amenities."

The amendment's hung vote had councillors Southgate, O'Leary, Casson, Henry and Lee Tooman supporting, with Councillors Mallett, Taylor, Macpherson, Gallagher and Mayor King voting against.

The casting vote by Cr Southgate passed the amendment which then moved on to become the motion. That motion was passed six to four with Cr Macpherson supporting.

From the Hamilton News