It has been a particularly busy return to work for me as election year 2017 has got under way. I've been able to call into several businesses based in Ohariu, had wet sponges thrown at me at a local school, and also attended a less vigorous function -- a public meeting in Tawa, one that contributed to Wellington City Council's decision to buy a community asset.
In late February, I was joined by Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Jacqui Dean on some business visits in the electorate. She learned, as I've already seen, that there's a great deal of optimism in Ohariu.
A highlight was our call into Aquaheat in Tawa. A long-time local business and head office of a firm that now has a presence in Auckland and Christchurch, Aquaheat is a leading contractor in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning industry. Originally a family-owned business, Aquaheat still operates a strong apprenticeship model, offering pathways to long and rewarding careers for young Kiwis.
The minister and I also called into Sub Urban, an innovative co-working and social-enterprise business based in the Johnsonville Mall. We joined a number of Sub Urban co-workers over lunch to talk about their business projects and see how the Sub Urban model assists them to grow and develop as small-business owners.
We also talked with Iona Elwood-Smith of Grow My Business about the business mentoring services she provides to Sub Urban co-workers and others across Wellington. Kathleen Wright is the dynamo behind Sub Urban and continues to drive the uptake of this innovative model.
I was also pleased, over the past couple of weeks, to join Raroa Normal Intermediate School principal Christine Browne for the announcement of an injection of $1.1m for two new classrooms. They're needed to meet the growth in the school's roll to more than 700 next year -- a fantastic sign in its own right -- and will provide innovative learning environments to support new teaching practices and models helping to improve educational success for our children.
The new classrooms will be built in time for the 2018 school year.
Since November 2015, the National-led Government has invested about $117 million in redevelopments for schools in the Wellington area, including: Thorndon School, Newtown School, Kelburn Normal School, Khandallah School, Ngaio School, Northland School and Churton Park School.
Then it was time to get my face wet. Westfest, the annual fair for West Park School in Johnsonville, was held in late February. Last year I suffered a dunking machine. This year I was pelted with soaking wet sponges. They can give a bit of a whack, let me tell you, but it was good fun.
I enjoyed helping out again. I'm sure the event raised a good sum for the school -- there were tons of things to do and a lot of entertainment on offer.
Finally, Wellington City Council has now announced that its tender to buy a section of the western hills in Tawa -- colloquially known as the Forest of Tane -- was successful. The announcement came after a public meeting, which I attended, to discuss the future of the block because locals wanted ratepayers to protect public access to, and the amenity of the land, half of which is regenerating native bush and half pine plantation.
The plantation is 30 years old and people have long used the land for access to northern parts of the Wellington greenbelt and as access to the Colonial Knob walkway. It's also used as a local walking loop through and around the native bush.
I congratulate The Friends of Tawa Bush Reserves, other concerned Tawa residents and northern ward councillors for their successful advocacy.