Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Power to the people, but who will pay?

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It’s all very well to promise decentralisation, but the demographics might not support this government reset, writes Bryan Gibson.
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The change of government, and the change in ideology it brings with it, appears to restore much of the regional power that Labour’s centralisation took away.

But across the various challenges our regional communities face, there’s still a lot of concern about the future.

On Three Waters, for instance, mayors who strongly opposed the concept feel National’s plan, released earlier this year, doesn’t solve the funding issues they face.

“How does National’s model allow these other [regional] businesses, if the councils set them up, to borrow cheaply to fund the work? That’s not really clear,” New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom told RNZ.

He said councils need a government guarantee to be able to borrow.

Buller mayor Jamie Cleine fears smaller councils will be left out in the cold by National’s plan.

It’s not just water infrastructure that rural communities are worried about.

Last week saw more heavy rain along the east coast, testing the key roads and bridges that link people and produce in the regions.

Wairoa farmer and Federated Farmers branch chair Allan Newton reckons they’ve had almost three years of continual rain.

At a farm level, newly built infrastructure is being tested again and some is losing the battle against the elements, sapping resolve.

Regional leaders say the rebuild, and the associated costs, are formidable.

“State highways 2 and 35 need to be fully re-opened,” Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz said. “Growers need to know they can get their produce out, and NZ really relies upon us for much of it also.”

She’s hopeful the new government will look to the east as it starts to spend NZ First’s $1.2 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund.

But there will be much more investment needed to bring those regions back to life.

The Department of Internal Affairs estimates between $120 billion and $185bn of investment is required over the next 30 years to maintain Three Waters infrastructure.

Treasury estimated that damage from Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods would cost between $9bn and $14.5bn.

The way we improve the quality of our rivers and streams will also change soon.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 will be replaced to give councils more control over how they meet environmental standards.

Many councils are a long way through the process of implementing the NPS, so it will be interesting to see how they adapt to a new plan and what costs doing that incurs.

Giving our regions the power to manage their own affairs means the people living in them can be assured that the strategies they come up with will work for them.

But as report after report has shown, the demographics are not in their favour.

There simply aren’t enough people in many regions to fund the work that needs to be done.

In due course we’ll learn more detail about the government’s plan to manage our water, roading and other key infrastructure.

Hopefully it will find a way to balance community-led solutions with funding models that don’t hamstring the very people they are trying to help.


In Focus Full Show | Friday 1st December

The new government has pledged to use wool carpet in all new government buildings giving a boost to the struggling strong wool sector. Bryan catches up with Bremworth chief executive Greg Smith to talk about the initiative and the company’s upcoming plans.

Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford also shares his delight after the government agreed to all 12 of his policy priorities.

And senior reporter Richard Rennie looks at some new research on the ability of soil to sequester carbon, then discusses what East Coast leaders are saying in the wake of yet another rain event.

Listen to “In Focus Full Show | Friday 1st December” on Spreaker.
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