Sell libraries to private investors?

Christchurch libraries (L to R) Fendalton, Bishopdale, Upper Riccarton and Shirley.

Potential mayoral candidate James Gough wants to investigate the possibility of selling off libraries and service centres.

Cr Gough said a conversation should be had over whether suburban libraries and service centres, excluding Turanga, would be a better asset if they were sold to private investors, with the city council as long-term lease holders.

The value of city council’s library and service centre network is $65.3 million.

“It would realise significant revenue in the short-term to assist with paying down debt and reducing rates – but it would also be essential that council expenditure is significantly reduced too,” he said.

However, Cr Gough said it would have to be paired with pared-back capital and operational spending to have the best outcome to reduce rates.

“The proposal would need to be a hand-in-glove approach where increased revenue in the short-term was coupled with a significant reduction in capital and operational spending as well.”

Cr Gough has been a proponent of asset sales.

But in September the city council voted against a proposed review into how much could be made from selling stakes in businesses such as the Lyttelton Port Company and broadband provider Enable.

It is a conversation starter echoed by the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce in its submission to the city council’s Annual Plan based off a similar model in Perth.

“I think there are opportunities for the council to take a good, hard look at some of the assets that they do own and work out whether or not they need to own them or whether there is a different model for that operation,” chief executive Leeann Watson said.

Ms Watson said it should be looked at it on a case by case basis – there should not be a “hard and fast” model, which was supported by Mayor Lianne Dalziel.

“I used the example of the Linwood Library being in the Eastgate Mall and the fact that we jointly own this building with Ngai Tahu,” Ms Dalziel said.

“It is enabling of people to access the library in the same hours that the mall is open.”

Cr Gough is considering running for mayor.

“I’ll probably make an announcement in the near future,” he said.

The People’s Choice chairman Keir Leslie, which opposes asset sales, said libraries were a core council business.

“The idea that we would sell off libraries in our own city . . . would be a bad deal for the ratepayer in the long run.”

Chase Commercial real estate agent Brendan Chase said the buildings would be “highly saleable and sought after” with a reliable and safe tenant in the city council.

“The question to ask is are those libraries going to be required in the long-term, if they are you’ll pay for them over and over again,” Mr Chase said.

Cr Gough said the projected rates increase of about 50 per cent in the next 10 years is an unsustainable “house of cards” that would “epically fail.”

“Average incomes are not rising anywhere near this quickly so the system is fundamentally broken.”