The Local Government New Zealand annual conference finished on July 17 in Queenstown, with the Far North's elected officials who attended bringing back some key messages that, they say, should inspire change.
Far North Mayor Wayne Brown says: “The impact of attitudes is huge.
“Attitude is the thing separating Kerikeri and Kaikohe as much as anything else.
“If you feel bad, you'll do bad. If you feel good, you'll do good.”
The recent positive shift in Kaikohe attitudes is a blessing for the town, he says.
Mr Brown's experience was one that shored up his belief that the Far North needs to create its own solutions.
He says he is not appreciative of central government's message to local governments of “stick to your knitting”.
It's not a message that Far North residents should accept, he says. “If you really think somebody in Wellington is thinking about you, you are dreaming. If you think they're thinking about you in Whangarei, you are dreaming.”
The Far North District council is the level of government that ought to address local needs best, he says.
“We're saying that economic development in our district is one of our cores as well,” he says.
“Roads and infrastructure is absolutely core, but so is economic development. Nobody's going to do anything about the Far North's economic development unless they're in the Far North.
“The economic development as it's being run in Whangarei is not doing it right. There are no projects north of Kamo. We have to do it ourselves, no one's going to do it for us. The government does not think about Kaikohe, or Kerikeri, or Kaitaia, or Paihia when they're talking about economic development.”
Deputy Mayor Ann Court says the conference was “terrific”.
It was not lost on her that the conference was held in New Zealand's tourism capital.
Queenstown was inspiring, as were the speakers.
The first speaker, Sir Graham Henry, had her thinking about what more the council can do for the Far North. He'd come to Queenstown after a vacation in Russell and reportedly said, “Lovely place, Bay of Islands, but no tourists.” She asked herself why he made that observation, she says.
“I don't think we're doing anything ‘wrong', but we are a summer destination, not really a middle of the winter destination, unless you're going fishing.”
She says it got her thinking that perhaps the council ought to be trying to drive more off-season activities “so we've got things to attract and keep people here all the time”.
She says promoting events is a discussion she has already begun to have. Investing in quality of life, lifestyle choice and investing in places that are in decline are all important aspects of keeping people in the area and attracting return visitors.
She agrees that the Far North has to do the work itself.
“We've got to do it for ourselves and we've got to stop bitching and belly-aching.”
She says there are simple quick fixes that are affordable, such as promoting events that keep visitors in town and gives them positive memories and stories of the Far North.
“There are baby steps like that and there are bigger steps.”
She also says change in the Far North can come from a change in its leaders' thinking - “a paradigm shift at elected member level".
“We can put up roadblocks that tell you: ‘Oh you shouldn't do that', ‘why you shouldn't do this' - we don't actually go out there and say ‘That's a fantastic idea, let's look at it'.”
She says council could help with feasibility studies and could encourage the development of business plans and could help identify investors.
Another important takeaway for the mayor was the message that New Zealand is part of Asia, not Europe, and that the Asian model, he says, is one that sees more direct relationships between mayors.
Mr Brown says the conference has improved over the past several years and he was quite positive about the conference that, in the past, he has asked council to pass on.
- Bay Chronicle