Policies focus on big cities

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 14/07/2014
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Should some towns in Manawatu/Whanganui be abandoned?

Yes, if they're not growing there's no point sinking money into them.

No, they won't grow if you don't sink any money into them.

Abandon them all and expand the cities.

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A new report has slated the state of the economy in Manawatu/Whanganui, with one of its authors suggesting some towns in the region should be abandoned.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research released a report on Saturday on the economic performance of each region in the country.

Manawatu/Whanganui was reported as the sixth-fastest growing economy between 2000 and 2010 in terms of gross domestic product per capita.

However, despite this growth, the region was still last out of the 12 in the report for GDP per capita in 2010.

NZIER principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub said provincial New Zealand had suffered as politicians and policies focused on the urban powerhouses of Auckland and Wellington.

"Regional considerations need greater prominence in the political and economic debate," he said.

"As the country heads towards a general election, Auckland's and Wellington's views and needs are well-heard. But what about Taranaki . . . what about Northland and Gisborne-Hawke's Bay, which rank near the bottom on many economic measures?"

Eaqub could easily have included Manawatu/Whanganui in that list; it is alongside or below the likes of Northland and Gisborne-Hawke's Bay in many of the areas measured in the report.

Speaking on TV3 current affairs show The Nation on Saturday, Eaqub said the best option for some small towns may be to abandon them.

"I think about some of those small towns in the central North Island where populations are declining and they've got this massive infrastructure deficit that they're going to have to replace. And you're like, would you really invest hundreds of millions of dollars for a declining population? The answer might be no," he said.

He refused to name specific towns other than to identify the Central North Island as an area of concern.

Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie said suggestions of closing small towns in the upper parts of Manawatu/Whanganui would not have been well received by residents.

"I'm in Taumarunui at the moment, if he came here and said that, he wouldn't last long."

Small towns in parts of the region had their challenges, McKelvie said, and some were still finding their niche. But he did not think they should be abandoned.

Towns such as Taihape, where the population dropped by 279 people, or 15.6 per cent between 2006 and 2013, still provided important services to the rural sector and to travellers on State Highway 1, he said.

Labour candidate for Rangitikei Dr Deborah Russell was door-knocking in Taihape yesterday.

While Eaqub's comments did not come up, Russell said residents were acutely aware of the situation the town was in. The recent loss of 12 jobs at the town's KFC was mentioned by residents repeatedly.

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- Manawatu Standard

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