12 June 2018
Former PM optimistic about the future of provincial centres
If the Gore District’s leaders needed any validation they were on to a good thing with the Ready for Growth project, they received it this month from former Prime Minister and new Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, Sir Bill English.
Guest speaker at the second workshop for action teams, Sir Bill said he believed the community was on the “right track” with the project.
Ready for Growth is a community-led initiative focusing on the District’s future economic and social aspirations and goals. Its aim is to grow the District’s population by 1500 people by 2030.
Sir Bill believed the community should give itself credit for the way it has dealt with various demographic and economic changes in the last 25 years, such as the closure of the Mataura paper mill.
“This is a very resilient community, one way or another people have found their own paths.
“You have dealt with all sorts of changes quite successfully. We have seen, over time, a greater ability for people to work together.”
Sir Bill stressed the importance of a strong relationship with iwi when it came to regional development. The District has the benefit of one of the better organised iwi in Ngai Tahu – “it is very focused on what happens community by community”.
He warned against being too charmed by the Government’s new Provincial Growth Fund. The temptation was that somehow money and the Government would produce something magical that was not there before – “they won’t, you are the magic”.
Sir Bill said he was more optimistic than some about population growth, based on a couple of factors. First, the significant changes brought about by the unforeseen impact of more people aged over 60 years staying in the workforce.
“There’s a lot more people working so the economy is a lot bigger than we thought it would be.”
Secondly, the desire of many city dwellers to live in small towns, although critical to this was high speed connectivity.
The overflow from cities was spilling into provincial New Zealand as people realised the advantages in taking their job to a place with not too much traffic and affordable housing.
“These are all advantages you can play to … it’s great to see you having a crack at it.”