Milton town of opportunities?

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Ask a lot of Milton residents if their town is on the cusp of a new era of opportunity and the answer is a resounding yes. Milton will be the principal benefactor of millions of dollars in funding over the next few years. Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan has said Milton is set to be a stellar performer, but are is his views echoed by all in the community? Clutha Leader reporter John Cosgrove takes a closer look.

The Clutha District Council’s pre-election report for possible new council members, released this month, detailed the council’s plans for the future of Milton.

The district council confirmed the Milton main street upgrade project as a multi-year project with a budget of $2million.

It listed improving Milton’s main street as a top priority identified in the “Our Place Milton” community plan.

Feedback received on the community plan showed that improving Milton’s main street and upgrading the toilets were high priorities for the local community.

Mr Cadogan said the consultation process had provided the council with a good indication of the feelings of those living in the town, which he believed was on the rise.

Milton’s name is either a shortened version of Milltown (for the early flour and oat mills) or the town was named after 17th century English poet John Milton. (Many of the streets are named after British bards).

Known by Maori as Tokomairiro, which translates loosely as “poling a canoe through reeds” because of the boggy nature of the land centuries ago.

The town motto is: “Milton – town of opportunities”.

Big business players include Calder Stewart, Pan Pac Forest Products Ltd and the Otago Corrections Facility.

Milton’s main street has an unusual kink, reportedly put there to save a tree or, alternatively, the result of two stubborn surveyors heading towards the town from different directions and not being prepared to budge on their calculations.

Milton is seen as the heart of the Clutha district’s Bruce ward and is the gateway to North, South and Central Otago.

It is only three hours from the resorts and skifields of Wanaka and Queenstown, and just an hour from the stunning scenery of the Catlins on the Southern Scenic Route.

Milton has a population of about 2000 people, and is situated on State Highway 1, 55km south of Dunedin in the middle of the Tokomairiro Plain.

“If you look at Milton’s natural advantages, they are the best-placed of all the district’s towns to grab the future growth potential – they could be the largest town in the district within the next 20 years,” Mr Cadogan said.

“Everywhere I look I feel the confidence growing in Milton – people love their town and are rolling their sleeves up.

“Right at the start of this whole process in 2017 there were two things that were unavoidable.

“One, our pool at Taylor Park was split right down the middle and, two, the service centre-library had failed its earthquake test.

“Those two had to be addressed; the others were discretionary.

“We got a clear indication from Milton that 66% of respondents showed clear favour to have the combined facilities in the centre of the town, 22% preferred somewhere up around the existing location, while the rest had a ‘don’t know’ or didn’t say response,” he said.

The council plans to spend up to $5million on the combined pool, library and service centre.

Mr Cadogan said he hoped the planned “destination” toilets at Stewart Reserve would be something special and the main street upgrade would boost people’s pride in their town the same way main street upgrades had in other towns around the Clutha district.

The council has already included $550,000 in the 2019-20 district-wide public toilet budget to complete a major overhaul of Milton’s main public toilets at Stewart Reserve.

For the main street upgrade about 80% of the 1200-plus respondents favoured either option 2 (with a budget of $1.5million) or option 3 (with a budget of $2million).

“We hope the cumulative effect of all we have planned for Milton will be that circuit-breaker for the town, to have a positive effect on the town.

“We are not sexy enough to attract enough workers into our district, so we have to improve the facilities to get people to stop and look at Milton.”

He said it would be a defining moment for Milton.

“This will test the mettle of Milton,” Mr Cadogan said.

Project Bruce community development worker Kim Schiller said if the latest ideas did not address some fundamental social needs in Milton then the council would just be putting an expensive Band-Aid on some real social problems.

Project Bruce was keenly aware of the social issues many Milton residents faced, such as a lack of adequate, affordable housing and low incomes, she said.

“From a Project Bruce perspective we want to bring people together to instil a sense of pride in our town, which is full of amazingly generous, energetic and good people.

“Even though we will have a new flash pool and things like that, if you go three streets back we have some real social issues there,” she said.

There were signs things were improving in Milton, however.

“People are engaging – people are participating and being proud of their community here.

“It is lovely to see what is happening here in Milton.

“We would like to think that the council is working on the big things but it’s important people feel pride in the appearance of their town.”

Her view was echoed by resident Jill McIntosh.

“My family has been here for generations and I feel very proud of Milton and where it’s going – it’s really exciting what’s on the horizon.

“The big thing coming up is the $10million cycle trail and we need to prepare for the impact it will have on us. We need to develop the resources and facilities to attract people to come here,” she said.

Warren Van Der Wath, who is new to Milton, said he was looking forward to setting up shop in the town. However, he felt Milton needed to be promoted better and was lacking certain businesses such as a dedicated truck stop.

“I think this town has great opportunities and yet it is so sad that we can see so many empty shop windows here along the main street,” he said.

Milton Area Promotions member Kate Partridge said Milton’s main street was a great place, but she was pushing to have the power lines placed underground to improve the views.

“I like what they are planning to do now, especially the toilets. It’s a very positive town with a lot of growth potential, but we need a new subdivision to alleviate the housing shortage,” she said.

For Mrs Schiller, the formula is simple.

“If we have a town that looks fantastic and our social needs are being addressed and people are engaging, then that’s our best-case scenario for Milton,” she said.