Thursday, November 30, 2023

Green tinge is nothing to fear

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On the surface those at the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council table might have more of an environmental bent than in the past but farmers have nothing to fear, new chairwoman Rachel Keedwell says.
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Keedwell, who replaced former chairman and Marton agricultural contractor Bruce Gordon in the leadership role, says the mix of councillors is probably the most balanced it has been in a long time.

“It’s a really good group with a great range of ideas and backgrounds,” she said.

Gordon and Ruapehu farmer Weston Kirton are still councillors while returning councillors Allan Benbow from Dannevirke and David Cotton from Whanganui also have strong rural connections through farming and rural business interests.

New councillor John Turkington from Marton has a finger on the rural pulse while horticulture now has a grower’s voice at the table through Emma Clarke, a manager and director at Levin’s Woodhaven Gardens.

Turkington, a forestry consultant, replaced Feilding sheep and beef farmer Gordon McKellar. He is joined by new councillors Fiona Gordon, from Palmerston North, and Horowhenua’s Sam Ferguson, both Green-leaning people encouraged to stand by Keedwell and returning Whanganui councillor Nicola Patrick.

Keedwell says her role as council chairwoman is more than full-time but it’s a matter of learning to manage that, which has seen her put to one side a business she ran with her husband.

Since taking the role Keedwell, who is in her third term as a councillor representing Palmerston North, has been getting out and about, trying to gauge community feeling as to what direction the council should take.

“I’ve been meeting with many different groups to try and hear where people are at.”

Rather than forcing an agenda on the region she wants to listen and find out what people want and see how those goals might be achieved.

“I’m not for radical change or change for change’s sake.

“I’m not into autocratic. I’m not saying this is what I want and this is what we should do.”

It’s an approach Keedwell is also encouraging around the council table.

She wants councillors to bring their agendas and views to the table to see if they can be achieved together so they are not fighting to be heard.

The farming community will not be lost in those discussions and Keedwell says it should be proud of what many of its members have already achieved.

There are a lot of farmers in the region who are making a variety of changes for the good of the environment, to lessen their footprint on the environment, she says.

“We need to hold these people up, to show there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Keedwell, a scientist with an ecology doctorate, is aware she does not have first-hand knowledge of running a farm but doesn’t see that as a problem.

“I’m a city dweller so I don’t have enough knowledge in that area so I’m pleased there are farmers around the table. We need people who understand the challenges farmers face.”

The council and the region are facing a number of big issues such as the implications of climate change and the importance of fresh water and how to restore its quality.

The council will have to be forward-focused to meet those challenges and she wants it to be proactive not reactive.

During her first two terms she has consistently pushed for sustainability in council decision-making.

“Our economy depends on our natural resources, therefore, I continually advocate for wise management to ensure a resilient and prosperous future for our region.

“There’s such a range of options available. If we can work out a way forward the community will thank us and have confidence in the future.”

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