Regional development 'key election issue'
Palmerston North, Manawatu and Rangitikei delegates at the Local Government New Zealand conference in Nelson are delighted both National and Labour have recognised regional development as a key election issue.
Prime Minister John Key spoke to about 550 mayors, chairs, chief executives and councillors from around New Zealand this morning.
He announced the establishment of a Rules Reduction Taskforce to cleanse a swathe of regulations of rules that are "confusing, change from region to region unnecessarily and suck up councils' precious resources in administration".
Key pledged central government would work in partnership with local government to make life easier for ratepayers, within a context of growing regional economies.
Opposition leader David Cunliffe followed with the announcement that Labour would set up a $200 million Regional Development Fund to subsidise regional projects to create jobs and growth over four years.
"The regions are the lifeblood of New Zealand and Labour understands their vital importance to growing New Zealand's economy," he said.
Palmerston North city councillor Rachel Bowen said she was pleased both were recognising regional development as a strategic issue.
She said the value of Labour's proposed fund would depend on seeing the detail for how projects would be selected that benefitted not just the local area, but the whole of New Zealand.
National's promised rules review had potential to make a positive, practical difference, and any steps to bring clarity in an over-regulated space would be welcomed by local government, she said.
Rangitikei mayor Andy Watson also welcomed both parties' recognition of the need for regional development.
He was encouraged about work already underway to identify Manawatu-Wanganui's growth plans, and said simplifying rules around building and other council functions would remove some frustrations.
But for his district, the most significant impact on future prosperity would be the changes to the funding assistance rates for roading.
"Over time, that could add 4.5 per cent to everybody's rates. There is probably nothing bigger than that for us."
Manawatu mayor Margaret Kouvelis said Labour's plan to appoint a Minister of Regional Development was encouraging.
"Both parties see the benefits of working closely with local government. Both get the importance of regional New Zealand to the economy."
But she said it was important that regional development was integrated and coherent across New Zealand.
Labour's new fund looked like "throwing money at something" until such stage as it was clear what criteria would underpin the spending decisions.
"Picking winners" was not necessarily the best way to identify and unlock the potential of the regions, she said.