One city, two leaders, many promises

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:58 22/07/2014
david cunliffe and john key
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
COUNCIL SUPPORTER: Prime Minister John Key tells mayors and councillors of his plans.
david cunliffe and john key
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
BUILDING COMMUNITIES: Labour Party leader David Cunliffe wants to see growth in the regions.

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National's John Key and Labour's David Cunliffe were both in Nelson today, speaking to the Local Government NZ conference. Bill Moore reports.


Key: too many rules in our way

National will set up a central and local government review group by October and ask ratepayers to get involved, Prime Minister John Key announced this morning.

Speaking to the Local Government NZ conference at Nelson's Rutherford Hotel, Key said the rules reduction taskforce would listen to concerns and find opportunities to reduce and improve regulation.

The Government has often been criticised for devolving too much responsibility on to councils, forcing them to raise rates to cover new regulatory costs.

Key said the Government agreed central and local government needed effective regulations "that do not place onerous costs on communities".

Too often regulations were confusing, changed unnecessarily from region to region and sucked up councils' administration resources.

"The taskforce, which will comprise people from both central and local government, along with tradespeople, will root out local regulation that could be improved," he said.

"Some things on the face of it don't make much sense, like making it compulsory for a homeowner to install windows in a room that already lets in a lot of light through the ranchslider doors. That's the sort of thing this taskforce will be looking at."

He said central and local government were both grappling with regulations that threw up "needless bureaucratic hurdles" for property owners, who were frustrated by the requirements and costs they had to meet.

"When local government sets requirements for building standards, for example, they can increase the cost of building, which affects house price inflation and potentially the track for interest rates and the exchange rate."

Ratepayers and homeowners would be invited to contribute via email and social media, Key said.

"If you like, we'll be crowd-sourcing ways to reduce the rules and regulations that stop people doing sensible things with their own properties."

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett would head the taskforce, which would report by the middle of next year.

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Key said the needs of people should be at the heart of what both central and local government did and it was "great" that a lot of councils were keeping proposed rate increases for 2014-15 below even those predicted in their long-term plans.

"But this can be tough, as you well know, and it means making hard choices about what things ratepayers need, and what are the nice-to-haves. We face similar choices in central government all the time."

The Government's legislation to ban psychoactive substances earlier this year was an example of central and local government partnership, "in no small part due to your advocacy on this issue".

National was looking to spend more on roading as part of its plan for future growth and was striving to keep growing regional economies and jobs while also improving environmental outcomes. The new national freshwater standards it had announced were "a hallmark of this government".

Key said the issue of earthquake-prone buildings had vexed councils and the Government's new bill was trying to strike the balance between protecting public safety and the costs of strengthening or removing buildings.

Cunliffe's $200m vow to spur growth in regions

Labour's regional development policy centres on regional growth plans with a fund providing at least $200 million in four years, leader David Cunliffe said this morning.

Addressing the Local Government NZ conference in Nelson, he said the plans would be drawn up in partnership with each region and identify opportunities and barriers to growth, and practical measures "to create a step-change for each region's economy".

"They will not just be more strategy documents to gather dust on the shelf. Labour is going to back these plans by investing in infrastructure and by investing in our people."

Labour understood that every region had its strengths, Cunliffe said. "Unlike the current government we do not believe the one-size-fits-all answer for everyone is more dairy cows and more oil exploration."

The party was fundamentally about taking the long view and understood that projects and infrastructure shouldn't stand or fall on whether or not they could turn a quick buck.

"I don't think there's anyone in this room who doesn't know of at least one project that would help grow their region's wealth, but that can't get across the line because of a lack of available investment."

Opotiki's harbour development, the Gisborne to Napier rail line and rebuilding Dunedin's heavy engineering were "good ideas that will have community-wide economic benefits but . . . can't get the cornerstone investment they need".

To unlock the regions' economic potential, breathe life back into neglected cities and towns and ensure jobs in the communities where young people grow up, money had to be injected to create opportunities.

"That's why I am announcing today an initial commitment of at least $200m over our first four years of government to a fund that will drive cornerstone growth projects in our regions."

The regional development fund would invest in major infrastructure and manufacturing, operating within a rigorous strategic framework. "Projects must have a measurable economic and social return, have a clear and documented rationale, and complement rather than crowd out private sector investment."

Cunliffe said the fund would be managed by an independent panel of experts in regional development, drawn from local government, business and iwi, and it would only invest in projects that locals were also willing to put money into.

"They will ultimately need to be able to stand on their own merit without further government backing, but we'll be taking a long-view on that. Structural economic change doesn't happen overnight."

The regions had been neglected, Cunliffe said. "Increasingly, New Zealand's economy is split between Canterbury, which is growing quickly buoyed by the rebuild; the main centres, where there is moderate growth; and the regions, whose economies are stagnant or going backwards," he said.

Regional centres were losing their manufacturers and, with them, the skilled, well-paying jobs that underpin the local economy.

To put people first and ensure all Kiwis could have a decent job, a warm, dry home and be able to afford to raise a family, no matter where they lived, "then we need to get the economic settings right".

"And that, by definition, must be a shared journey. We are all in this together."

- The Nelson Mail

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