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An interesting debate is taking place here in Tokoroa.
Right now, the local council is set to spend over $4m upgrading the front of town in an effort to lure travelers into our CBD instead of simply passing by on SH1.
Some aspects of the plan are quite controversial -- such as the felling of many very old and lovely trees then replacing them with a sea of concrete.
The existing information centre is also to be demolished and replaced with an imposing "amphitheatre" which is all glass with a roof that doubles as seating and a viewing platform.
It is my contention that you can find concrete and glass in any town along the side of SH1 and that such expensive changes will not make the town either distinctive or attractive to visitors. Some agree, some disagree.
My contention is that we need to give people a reason to stop in Tokoroa and we should be thinking years ahead with a cohesive plan that goes beyond destroying valuable shade-trees and erecting monuments to bureaucracy.
I'm thinking about the needs of travelers driving EVs.
I'm pretty sure that the one thing that would convince people to turn off SH1 and into this little non-descript town would be EV charging stations.
Think about it...
We're told that EVs will make up more than two percent of our vehicle fleet within three short years and I personally believe the number will be much higher. EV growth will soon become exponential, limited only by manufacturers' ability to meet the demand.
Tokoroa is pretty well positioned as the first recharge point for anyone driving an EV from Auckland to some other location further down country.
The last figures I saw said that there are about 9,000 vehicles a day passing by Tokoroa on SH1 and obviously, although there are very few EVs in that number today, within three or four years there will be at least a couple of hundred battery-powered cars amongst them and many of those will need recharging if they're heading South from Auckland.
If we say that there are 200 and half of them are heading South and just 60% of them need to recharge... that's 60 cars per day who'd pull into this little town and spend 30 minutes or so browsing the shops and eateries whilst waiting for the requisite number of KW/H to be pushed into their batteries.
If each vehicle contained an average of 1.66 people (as per the report commissioned by the local council) then we're talking about 100 people per day with their wallets open and time to burn.
Now do we really think that there will be 100 people who would otherwise drive past Tokoroa and say "hey, look at that funny building, let's drive into that town and buy a coffee and a sandwich"?
Given that this town has been built on the timber industry, why not rebrand it as NZ's greenest town?
Install a dozen recharge stations and promote it as "the place" to stop when driving an EV down SH1.
The town is unusual insomuch as the recharge stations can be positioned within clear view of SH1 with easy access and those stations would be just 30m from the CBD with its shops, cafes and other diversions. Instead of sitting for half an hour in a boring petrol station while your car recharges, people coming to Tokoroa would have a selection of cafes, shops and other things to do so as to make those 30 minutes whiz by much faster.
Call me silly, but I think the town needs a strong point of distinction and the closest we've come to that is the old pie cart which did a great job of luring people off the main highway. Sadly, that is now long-gone and although we have a very cool wood carving made from an old tree that might encourage people to stop, it's not going to get them across the road into the shops because they just take a few pictures and continue their journey.
What do readers think?
Might this be a great opportunity to turn Tokoroa into a popular stopping point for the growing number of EV owners?
Do you really think that the images of the proposed new development on this page are enough to make you stop in Tokoroa if you were driving past?
And if you were stopping in Tokoroa for a while, would you rather park in a barren carpark with no shade... or be able to enjoy the wonders of a tree-shaded parking area with picnic tables -- as is the current configuration?
Sadly, I fear that those in charge of the changes believe that the more you spend the more effective such redevelopment will be. Personally, I think we must be far smarter and create a significant point of distinction -- which simply isn't happening with this new development. Could making Tokoroa "the place" to recharge your EV be a better use of that money and should we build on the "timber town" history of the place by keeping the trees and ditching the planned acres of concrete and glass?
You tell me.
I guess the real problem is that politicians tend to love immortalising themselves in little brass plaques that get attached to monstrosities like the one planned and that's the major driving force. No way to change that!
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