Thursday, December 7, 2023

Big policies have local impact

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Rural voters in local body elections should expect candidates to demand greater co-operation from central government, given the demands coming to regional and local councils.
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Ex-Western Bay of Plenty mayor and farmer Ross Paterson has farm businesses in Waikato and Western Bay of Plenty. 

There is a need for more central government help for local authorities to fulfill the infrastructure, housing and environment demands on them.

“And the efforts need to be the total package rather than a piecemeal approach where one area of concern may be dealt with but another is ignored.”

A typical example in Western Bay of Plenty is the special housing zone at Omokoroa, 25km north of Tauranga. 

While helping with the intensive development of a small town into a satellite of Tauranga city the Government left the region short by failing to also fund the proposed new highway from Tauranga to Katikati. 

When Paterson stepped down as mayor two years ago that road had been given priority and was ready to go, only to be halted by the new Government’s curtailed roading spend.

“Regionally, you cannot ignore these important roads for access to the likes of the port. If these are not funded for 10 years you will have a massive catch-up to do in coming years.”

At a local level the Western Bay District Council has had to spend over $300 million in the past 10 years to try to keep local roads up to scratch amid strong population growth.

With the Government issuing policy statements and national standards on water and climate change, regional councils will also need to work closely with rural communities affected by such demands.

“This is a pretty dogmatic approach central government is taking. They are big hurdles to jump.”

He is also conscious of Western Bay of Plenty being rated the second most expensive in the country for rates.

“But you have to remember that 10-15 years ago the region’s drinking water standards were rated an F for quality and distribution. Today that is a B but after three out of five towns had to be upgraded due to E coli levels in water. 

“That work’s done, at least it means the region has almost paid it off just as central government starts to require it around the country in other council districts.”

Further east in the Opotiki District retiring long-term Mayor John Forbes is impressed with the number of younger candidates starting to step up for local body politics.

“It has traditionally always been gray haired old guys but that is changing. I think we are seeing more young people who value community and community facilities coming on board. It’s a good thing. It means they have time to learn the ropes of local government and be able to step up to something like a mayoral role and have five-10 years in it without being too old.”

A personal frustration in the mayoral role has been the attitude of central government employees, rather than ministers themselves, who take a do-as-we-say approach to local councillors.

Looking into the future he is concerned some of the national policy statements coming out of central government might have reach that extends too far. The drinking water standards policy due out soon is one example. 

“One big problem for councils will be having the people with the skill to monitor these standards. They simply are not out there.”

On the upside he is optimistic about the future for eastern Bay of Plenty, thanks in part to the success of SunGold kiwifruit. 

“As a council we have been able to provide rating relief to iwi to enable them to free up capital to set up these orchards.”

The region’s long-awaited open ocean mussel farm is also proving to have had a good start, getting a recent $20 million boost through the Provincial Growth Fund.

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